Somalia: rebel factions unite; Turkey sends warship

Sheikh Sharif Sheik Ahmed, the new president of Somalia’s transition government, responded Feb. 5 to the formation of a new alliance of rebel factions, asking the opposition leaders to lay down their arms and join the government. “We are requesting our brothers to work with us in restoring peace and unity,” he said, adding that he is willing to open a dialogue with all opponents and would welcome their participation in government.

The new, anti-government Islamic Party is composed of four factions: the hard-line Eritrea-based wing of the Alliance for the Re-liberation of Somalia led by Hassan Dahir Aweys; Harakat Ras Kamboni, a southern Somali Islamist group affiliated with military leader Hassan Turki; the Islamic Front, formed in 2007 to oppose the Ethiopian troop presence in Somalia; and a little-known, clan-based group called Anole.

In a statement announcing the group’s formation, spokesman oHassan Mahdi criticized Sheikh Sharif’s participation in UN-sponsored talks in Djibouti. The talks paved the way for the withdrawal of Ethiopian troops from Somalia last month and allowed Sheikh Sharif and his opposition party to join the transitional federal government. Mahdi said the Islamic Party was formed to counter moves by Sheikh Sharif to turn Somalia into a secular, pro-Western state. (VOA, Feb. 6)

At least 20 people were reported killed and dozens wounded after a roadside bomb exploded in Mogadishu Feb. 2 and African Union forces appparently fired back in response. Uganda, however, categorically rejected the reports.

Uganda’s ambassador to the AU, Mull Sebujja Katende, said a defense ministry investigation concluded that Ugandan peacekeepers fired no shots in the incident, and that the attack was from a suicide bomber. He said the bomber killed himself and several civilians, and wounded three soldiers from the African Union force AMISOM. (VOA, Feb. 6; NYT, Feb. 3)

Turkey into pirate fray
Turkey announced it will deploy a warship as part of the international force to police the Somali coast against pirates. The government has presented to parliament a memorandum to allow Turkey to deploy naval forces in the region. “In the first stage, the plan is to send one warship,” said Foreign Minister Ali Babacan. (Reuters, Feb. 6)

The Somali pirates holding a Ukrainian freighter containing tanks and other weapons received at least part of the multi-million-dollar ransom they have been demanding, Kenyan maritime officials announced. But several complications remain to be worked out before the freighter is released, the officials said. (NYT, Feb. 4)

More attacks on press
Three gunmen killed the director of local radio station Horn Afrik in Bakaro, Somalia, Feb. 4, the station reported. It is not yet clear who was behind the killing of the director, Sa’id Tahliil Ahmed. (NYT, Feb. 4)

See our last post on Somalia.

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  1. Hijacked arms arrive in Kenya
    A Feb. 13 New York Times account on the celebratory arrival of the Faina in Mombasa again raises the theory that the arms on board were bound for the SPLA:

    Last week, the ransom literally floated down to the Faina’s deck after the ship’s owner, a Ukrainian-Israeli businessman, made arrangements to drop the money by parachute to the pirates. The ship’s crew flew back to Ukraine on Thursday night.

    The only unresolved issue is the weapons. The Kenyan government has said the Faina’s cargo was intended for the Kenyan military, but the pirates and Western officials in the region have said that the arms were destined for a former rebel army in southern Sudan and that Kenya was the transit point.

    On Thursday, Kenyan officials reiterated their claim and invited journalists to drive the tanks themselves, once all the weapons were properly delivered to Kenyan military bases. “There’s no cover-up,” said Alfred Mutua, the Kenyan government spokesman.

    See our last post on Kenya.