From: Berhane Habtemariam (Berhane.Habtemariam@gmx.de)
Date: Thu Feb 26 2009 - 11:39:29 EST
Somalia: Renewed Fighting Could Undermine New Government
26 February 2009
Nairobi - The latest fighting in Mogadishu, in which dozens have been killed
and thousands displaced since 23 February, is an attempt to wrongfoot the
new government, led by President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, observers and
"The fighting is an attempt to derail and pre-empt the new president's
actions regarding reconciliation," said a Nairobi-based regional analyst,
who requested anonymity. "It is bad but not fatal to Sheikh Sharif's
Noting that the clashes underlined the urgency with which Sheikh Sharif must
move to build a coalition and secure the city and south-central Somalia, he
warned that the president would be in an untenable position if the African
Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) troops used disproportionate force.
Timothy Othieno, a regional analyst at the London-based Overseas Development
Institute, told IRIN the fighting had complicated the current initiatives to
stabilise Mogadishu and Somalia in general. Sheikh Sharif, he added, needed
to negotiate with the opposition based in Asmara, Eritrea.
"If he can come to some agreement with [the group in] Asmara, then deal with
Sheikh Aweys [one of the former leaders of the Union of Islamic Courts and
head of the Asmara-based opposition] and Al-Shabab [rebel group], only then
can pressure be brought to bear on Al-Shabab's fragmented units and their
"The reality is that the current crisis is, once gain, tied to regional
politics - the Eritrea/Ethiopia problem. Sheikh Sharif is seen as an
Ethiopian (and by extension the US) compromise and not trusted by hardliners
(Al-Shabab and Sheikh Aweys et al) and most importantly Eritrea."
However, Abdi Mohamed Baffo, a Somali analyst, said the fighting showed the
weakness of the opposition. "By showing flexibility and agreeing to talk to
[everyone], the new president has painted his opponents into a corner."
Religious leaders and Hawiye (the predominant clan in Mogadishu) elders had
supported the president's position, he added. "The fighting is intended to
muddy the waters," Baffo added. "If anything it is making people angrier and
put him [the president] in a stronger position."
Reconciliation process "on track"
Interior Minister Sheikh Abdulkadir Ali Omar said the fighting was
"regrettable and unnecessary", but added that it would not deter the
government from proceeding with the reconciliation process.
"Any differences between Somalis can be and should be resolved through
dialogue," he told IRIN. "The Somali people do not need any more fighting."
Clashes between government forces, backed by AMISOM troops, and Hisbul
Islami, formed by a breakaway faction of the Alliance for the Reliberation
of Somalia and three other insurgent groups, have reportedly killed at least
40 people and injured 89 more, local sources said.
The fighting reportedly started when Hisbul Islami forces moved into areas
of Hodan and Hawl-Wadag, south Mogadishu.
"Thousands of families are fleeing the districts of Hodan and Hawl-Wadag,"
Ali Sheikh Yassin, acting chairman of the Mogadishu-based Elman Human Rights
Organisation (EHRO), told IRIN.
"Since the withdrawal of Ethiopian troops [in late January], there has been
a steady return of people to the area," he added. "Now that has been
reversed in two days."
Yassin called on both sides "to stop the indiscriminate shelling of
populated areas". The fighting, he added, had shocked the people of
Mogadishu who expected a reprieve after the withdrawal of Ethiopian forces
and election of the new president.
"It came at the wrong time, when people least expected it," he said.
The fighting reportedly subsided on 25 February, but a medical source said
more injured were being brought to Madina Hospital in Mogadishu.
"They have just brought two small children and other wounded have been
coming in all day," he said. Most of the wounded were women, children and
A civil society source said the fighting would discourage many internally
displaced persons from returning. Bakara market, the country's largest, was
one of the hardest-hit areas, he added.
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