Japan sends destroyers to Somali coast; Islamists taking over on mainland

Tokyo is preparing to dispatch Maritime Self-Defense Force destroyers to protect Japanese commercial vessels from pirates off Somalia. The issue of use of force against the pirates is likely to hotly contested in legislation the government is readying to allow the mission. “Basically, MSDF anti-piracy measures should be dealt with under a new law,” Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada said, raising further fears of an erosion of Japan’s pacifist constitution.

The MSDF is allowed to shoot directly at pirate ships that ignore orders to stop within Japanese waters, under the current Japan Coast Guard Law. Rules of engagement are expected to be more restrictive in the Somalia mission, with the MSDF only be allowed to shoot directly at a pirate ship to defend itself from hostile fire or carry out an emergency evacuation operation. (Daily Yomiuri, Jan. 30)

The escalation comes as Somalia (outside the autonomous enclaves of Puntland and Somaliland) appears to be falling to the Islamist insurgents. The “official” transition government’s parliament elected Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed (himself described as a “moderate Islamist leader”) as president, replacing Abdullahi Yusuf, who resigned under pressure in December. But the session was held in Djibouti because of the ongoing instability in Somalia. Ahmed defeated 14 other candidates, including Prime Minister Nur Hassan Hussein and the son of former Somali dictator Mohamed Siad Barre, who was toppled in 1991. (LAT, Feb. 1)

Meanwhile, Islamist insurgents took over Baidoa, the Somali city that supposedly houses the parliament. The insurgents moved in Jan. 26, just hours after the last Ethiopian troops withdrew from the town and the country. Witnesses reached by telephone in Baidoa said that Islamist Shabab militia is patrolling the streets and that government offices had been ransacked. The Shabab is said to be enforcing shaira law in the city. (NYT, Jan. 27; NYT, Jan. 26)

See our last posts on Somalia and the pirates and Japan’s remilitarization.

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