Sunday, April 29, 2007

The anarchy that we have created in Somalia. Make no mistake: this is OUR war.

Fighting returns after Somali government claims victory over insurgents


MOGADISHU, Somalia (AP) - Resident's of Somalia's shattered capital began returning home Friday, following the government's claim of victory after nine days of fierce fighting with Islamic insurgents. But questions remained over how long the peace would last.

Just hours after Prime Minister Ali Mohamed Gedi said the Islamic insurgents were finished, a group of masked gunmen attacked the main hotel where government officials live. The attack lasted about an hour, but there were no reports of casualties.

None of the insurgents could be reached for comment. Hawiye clan elders, who have also opposed the government in the past, refused to comment on Gedi's claim.

While some of the most desperate victims of the recent fighting returned to their homes on Friday, few believed that the Islamic insurgency was over.

"The insurgents can use Arab-style explosions," said businessman Abdullahi Kulmiye, using the local term for suicide bombings. "I don't think they accept yesterday's defeat. I believe they will restart the war until they get a victory over the government."

Somali troops and their Ethiopian allies have been trying to wipe out the insurgents since late March, with the unrelenting rain of mortar shells and artillery taking the highest toll on civilians. Rights groups say the fighting killed more than 1,000 people and sent up to 400,000 fleeing for safety.

In the past nine days alone, the death toll was more than 400.

"We have won the fighting against the insurgents," Gedi told The Associated Press on Thursday, saying small, mopping-up operations were still under way and that more than 100 insurgents had surrendered to the government.

"The worst of the fighting in the city is now over," he said, and called for residents to return to their homes.

Western diplomats, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of damaging relations with Somalia's government, said the insurgents had suffered large numbers of casualties and were running low on ammunition, but were not yet defeated.

The government has declared victory before, only to have the insurgents reappear a few weeks later.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon urged the international community to make "concerted efforts" to restore peace and security to Somalia.

"I'm gravely concerned about this ongoing violence in Somalia," he told reporters at UN headquarters in New York on Thursday.

Somalia is facing a dire humanitarian crisis after the fighting levelled homes and sent hundreds of thousands of civilians into squalid camps or seeking shelter along roadsides.

The United Nations' top humanitarian official said Thursday that more people have been displaced in Somalia than anywhere else in the world this year. And, he said, international aid groups only have access to a fraction of them.

"The situation is indeed extremely worrying," said John Holmes, the UN undersecretary-general for humanitarian affairs. While UN agencies and other relief groups are trying to provide aid, they can only reach about 60,000 of the homeless at the moment because of fighting in and around the capital of Mogadishu.

The insurgents are linked to the Council of Islamic Courts, which was driven from power in December by Somali and Ethiopian soldiers, accompanied by U.S. special forces. The U.S. has accused the courts of having ties to al-Qaida.

The militants reject any secular government, and have sworn to launch an Iraq-style insurgency.

Gedi told the AP that he was confident the group would not re-emerge because the government and allied forces were seizing the insurgents.

"They are not getting away, we are capturing them, we are bringing them to justice," he said.

Somalia has not had an effective national government since 1991, when warlords overthrew dictator Mohamed Siad Barre and then turned on one another, throwing the country into anarchy. The current administration was formed in 2004 but has struggled to extend its control over the country.

Original article posted here.

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