Somali pirates reportedly received a $3 million ransom for the Saudi supertanker Sirius Star and its crew, including two Brits—but in the words of one former captive "got their comeuppance." Pirate captain Mohamed Said, speaking yesterday from Xarardheere, north of Mogadishu, said six of his crew were killed when their boat capsized while returning from the transfer site. Capt. Said said his men feared capture by the Combined Maritime Forces which are now patrolling Somalia's coast. (The Independent, Jan. 11)
Ethiopia began pulling its military forces out of Somalia at the beginning of the year, having pledged to withdraw from the country by the end of 2008. Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi's office said the withdrawal would take several days. A convoy of about 30 Ethiopian vehicles loaded with troops and equipment left the Somali capital, Mogadishu, as some 3,400 Ugandan and Burundian peacekeepers from the African Union began taking up positions the positions vacated by the Ethiopian forces. Hours before the withdrawal began, a roadside bomb killed two Ethiopian soldiers and a number of civilians died when troops opened fire. (WP, Jan. 3; BBC News, Jan. 2)
Heavy fighting erupted in central Somalia Dec. 27, with two religious militias seeking control of the town of Guri El in Galgadud region, Radio Garowe reports. At least 10 people were killed and 12 others wounded during the battle, in which the town's hospital was hit by a mortar shell. Gunmen loyal to a Sufi group—Ahlu Sunnah Wal Jamee'a—reportedly took control of strategic locations inside Guri El, ousting al-Shabaab guerillas who had seized the town earlier this month.
Sweden joined the Netherlands this week in suspending new aid payments to Rwanda after a UN report accused the central African country of supporting guerillas in the neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo. President Paul Kagame responded: "The people of Rwanda should be ready to survive in any circumstance including the absence of aid." He also denied the report's charges that his government supports Congolese rebel leader Laurent Nkunda. "I have never spoken to Nkunda. I have never met him by the way. I don't know him other than seeing him on television," said Kagame, calling the report "petty, simplistic and utterly nonsensical".
The Indian navy announced Dec. 13 it had captured 23 Somali and Yemeni pirates while coming to the defense of an Ethiopian-flagged merchant vessel in the Gulf of Aden. Meanwhile, US Defense Secretary Robert Gates, speaking before a Bahrain conference sponsored by the London-based International Institute of Strategic Studies, called for international action against the pirates.
Islamist al-Shabaab insurgents seized two districts in central Somalia without violence Dec. 7, including the stronghold of a Sufi group that traditionally abjures violence. Residents in Galgadud region reported that fighters aboard armed trucks peacefully entered the provincial capital Dhusamareb. "The local clan militias withdrew before they came," one resident told the independent Radio Garowe. Shabaab fighters also took control of Mataban district to the south, with clan militias similarly offering no resistance. The Shabaab faction already controls key regions in southern Somalia, including the port towns of Kismayo and Marka.
Thousands of people from an informal settlement 20 kilometers south of Khartoum are now living in makeshift shelters after their homes were razed by Sudan's government. Local officials said 4,000 homes were destroyed under a plan to reorganize the "Mandela" settlement, established by war refugees from the south in the '90s, to make it more habitable. Another 6,000 are slated to be demolished. "When this is over, people will move back, build and live in peace," said Madut Wek, secretary to the local government-backed Mandela Popular Committee. But speaking to the UN news agency IRIN, many evicted residents denied Wek's claims. "We were living just fine there," elderly Idriss Karama said as he watched bulldozers ploughing through the rubble of what used to be his home a few hundred yards away. "They brought us here. We don't know anything."
A federal jury in San Francisco Dec. 1 cleared Chevron Corp. of responsibility in the 1998 shooting of Nigerian villagers by military forces during a protest at an offshore oil platform. Survivors of the incident, under the name "Concerned Ilaje Citizens," argued that the oil company should be held accountable for paying police and soldiers, and transporting them by helicopter to the oil platform, where they shot and killed two unarmed protesters and wounded two others.