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[Dehai-WN] (Reuters): INTERVIEW-Somali PM would welcome air strikes against militants

From: Berhane Habtemariam <Berhane.Habtemariam_at_gmx.de_at_dehai.org>
Date: Thu, 23 Feb 2012 00:51:31 +0100

INTERVIEW-Somali PM would welcome air strikes against militants

Wed Feb 22, 2012 9:34pm GMT

By Adrian Croft

LONDON Feb 22 (Reuters) - Somalia's prime minister said on Wednesday he
would welcome targeted air strikes against Islamist fighters in his country
and predicted the militants could be defeated within a month.

Abdiweli Mohamed Ali told Reuters Insider television in an interview That he
had not discussed possible air strikes with the United States or Britain,
which hosts an international conference on Somalia on Thursday that he is
taking part in.

"Targeted air strikes on al Qaeda is a welcome opportunity. But we have to
make sure that we protect the life and the safety and property of the Somali
people," he said.

Britain's Guardian newspaper reported on Wednesday that mounting concern
over the threat posed by pirates and al Shabaab Islamist militants in
Somalia had led Britain and other European Union countries to consider the
feasibility of air strikes against their logistical hubs and training camps.

A spokesman for British Prime Minister David Cameron would not confirm the
report, saying: "We have been very focused on pursuing a different strategy
to a military strategy."

Ali said he did not want planes inadvertently hitting children going to
school. "That would be unforgivable if they do so, but on the other hand we
welcome the opportunity for them to strike terrorist camps and al Qaeda in
Somalia," he told reporters.

Al Qaeda announced this month that al Shabaab was joining its ranks.

Ali said al Shabaab was in the process of being defeated.

"They lost the hearts and the minds of the Somali people. So therefore they
are losing ground and hopefully within the next month or so, hopefully there
will be no more Shabaab," he said.

Ethiopian and Somali troops seized the strategic city of Baidoa from al
Shabaab on Wednesday.

The militants are battling Kenyan troops to hold on to territory in southern
Somalia and against African Union peacekeepers (AMISOM) around the capital.

The U.N. Security Council voted on Wednesday to expand AMISOM by almost half
to nearly 18,000 soldiers. (Additional reporting by Axel Threlfall, Matt

C Thomson Reuters 2012 All rights reserved


Ethiopian forces capture key Somali rebel stronghold

Wed Feb 22, 2012 7:30pm GMT

* Al Shabaab say withdrew from city earlier

* Militants vow revenge attacks

* Baidoa seen as most important rebel base after Kismayu

* U.N. approves more peacekeepers (Recasts, adds new rebel, AMISOM, resident

By Mohamed Ahmed and Abdi Sheikh

MOGADISHU, Feb 22 (Reuters) - Ethiopian and Somali troops seized on
Wednesday the strategic city of Baidoa from Islamist militants who deserted
their positions but vowed to avenge the loss with "fire and explosions".

Losing control of Baidoa is a major blow for the al Qaeda-backed al Shabaab
rebel group which is also battling Kenyan troops to hold on to territory in
southern Somalia and against African Union peacekeepers (AMISOM) around the

The Ethiopian-led offensive came as the U.N. Security Council voted to
expand the African Union peacekeeping force by almost half to almost 18,000
soldiers, and on the eve of a conference in London to tackle Somalia's

"Ethiopia and Somalia's troops will never sleep peacefully in Baidoa,"
Sheikh Abdiasis Abu Musab, the spokesman for al Shabaab's military
operation, told Reuters.

"There will be ceaseless fire and explosions. Baidoa will be a cemetery for
the Ethiopians," he said.
^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^ TAKE A LOOK-Somali
turmoil targeted in UK conference


Rebel fighters pulled out of Baidoa earlier on Wednesday in what they
suggested was a tactical retreat aimed at avoiding casualties. The
insurgents now surrounded the city, Musab said.

Located about 250 km northwest of Mogadishu, Baidoa is considered the most
important rebel base after the southern port city of Kismayu.

Baidoa hosted Somalia's interim government from early 2006, when another
Islamist administration was battling warlords for control of Mogadishu,
until the turn of 2008/2009 when al Shabaab expelled the transitional

"Baidoa is under our control," said Abdifatah Mohamed Gesey, governor of Bay
region. "We are going to hunt them down in every pocket of this region."


Somalia's Prime Minister Abdiweli Mohamed Ali hailed the capture of Baidoa,
a city of an 800,000 people he described as "one of the most important" in
southwestern Somalia.

Ethiopia sent troops across the border into Somalia in November to open up a
third front against the militants already suffering financial constraints
and internal divisions.

Its ground-forces launched a push south towards Baidoa through Bay and
neighbouring Bakool regions on Tuesday and faced minimal resistance, said

On Wednesday morning, witnesses said al Shabaab had also surrendered the
town of Berdale about 60 km from Baidoa, a day after losing control of the
town of Yurkud about 50 km away.

After a day hunkered down in fear of a bloody battle for Baidoa, residents
remained hesitant to wander far.

"Our movement is very limited. The government and Ethiopian troops are
jointly patrolling every corner of the town," resident Moalim Ali Aden told
Reuters by telephone from Baidoa.

It was not immediately clear how long Ethiopia would keep its forces deep
inside Somalia.

Ethiopia's more than two-year military presence inside Somalia between late
2006 and early 2009, when it routed another Islamist administration from
power, provoked massive resentment and galvanised support for the militant

Increasing the cap on AMISOM's numbers to 17,731 paves the way for Kenya's
troops in southern Somalia to "re-hat" as peacekeepers and for the
peacekeeping force to move decisively beyond the confines of Mogadishu.

Diplomats, however, say Ethiopia's troops will not integrate into AMISOM and
will eventually withdraw.

"Al Shabaab will have no place in Somalia. They are already weakened and we
shall finish them," AMISOM force spokesman Paddy Ankunda told Reuters.
(Additional reporting by Feisal Omar; Writing by Richard Lough; Editing by
Roger Atwood)

C Thomson Reuters 2012 All rights reserved


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