Masthead graphic based on a painting by Gudrun Thriemer.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Somali fighters seize southern town

Al Jazeera reports that fighters affiliated with the Islamic Courts' Union have taken control of the southern Somali city of Jilib after clashing with a government-backed militia group.

Witnesses said the fighters seized weapons and four armoured trucks from the tribal militia members in overnight clashes and continued to patrol the town on Saturday.

The transitional government has struggled to defeat remnant Islamic Courts' Union fighters after the Ethiopian army wrested control of Mogadishu from the group in December 2006.

On Thursday, the UN Security Council on passed a resolution calling for a UN political presence in the country - the first since the catastrophic Somalia Affair during the Mulroney years - and said it would consider deploying peacekeepers to replace a small African Union force, if security improves and political reconciliation is achieved.

Peace talks that ended in Djibouti on Friday with no more than an agreement to meet again on May 31.

The Alliance for the Re-Liberation of Somalia, the main opposition alliance, which includes the Islamic Courts' Union, has said it would not be involved in direct talks until the government agrees to a timetable for Ethiopian troops to withdraw.

On Friday, May 2, a US air strike killed Aden Hashi Ayro, the leader of the al-Shabaab group. Al-Shabaab, which was formerly the military wing of the Islamic Courts movement, is now labelled a terrorist group by Washington.

Witnesses who spoke to Al Jazeera said that the attack also killed another 24 people, five in the targeted house and the rest in nearby homes.

Somalia is important to the west because of its geographical location, situated near oil wells in the Persian Gulf and along the shipping routes from the Indian Ocean to the Red Sea.

The Islamic Courts Union emerged after the collapse of the Siad Barre government and the flight of US- and Canadian- backed UN peacekeepers in 1991. They gained credibility among the population when they set up schools and hospitals as well as resolving legal disputes and taking a strong stance on law and order.

In June 2006, they drove a coaliation of US-backed warlords from the capital city of Mogadishu. They were defeated when the Ethiopian Army invaded to "protect" the conflict-ridden Transitional Federal Government (TFG).

The TFG has since collapsed, but the Ethiopian Army still occupies Somalia. PINR reports that "the opposition has begun to coalesce around a more militant line emphasizing armed resistance" (Weinstein PINR Dec 27 07).

Somalia seemed, in 2006, an "opportunity to engage non-state actors on a diplomatic level" but that has not materialized.

The region is characterized by misrule, cyclical famines, environmental degradation and chronic underdevelopment, and foreign intervention.
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