Home | News    Wednesday 14 June 2006

Somalia warlord joins to Islamic courts

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June 13, 2006 (MOGADISHU) — Somalia’s warlords alliance was dealt a swift series of major blows when a powerful member defected to the Islamic courts and three others were forced on the run again by the approach of enemy gunmen.

The defection of warlord Abdi Hassan Awale Qeidid, who said he was switching camps in order to end bloodshed in the bullet-riddled capital, came shortly after seven east African nations slapped sanctions on members of the US-backed alliance.

Qeidid said in an interview that he had crossed over from the Alliance for the Restoration of Peace and Counter-Terrorism (ARPCT) to the Joint Islamic Courts on advice of his elders from his Sa’ad sub-clan.

"I am no longer a member of the ARPCT and I quit that alliance immediately," he said.

His abrupt exit leaves warlords Musa Sudi Yalahow, Bashir Raghe Shirar and Omar Muhamoud Finnish as the only faction chiefs still holed up in northern Mogadishu under the protection of their powerful Abgal subclan and still vowing to fight on.

Qeidid, a former Somali police commissioner during the regime of dictator Mohamed Siad Barre, who was toppled in 1991, was the feared warlord in charge of Afgoi belt, about 30 kilometres (20 miles) south of Mogadishu.

"Since the formation of ARPCT, Mogadishu has been a centre of a military crisis that has led to the needless death of hundreds of people, therefore I decide to quit the alliance to build on the gains of the Islamic tribunals and give peace a chance," he said.

Since the clashes erupted in Mogadishu in February, nearly 350 people have been killed and more than 2,000 others wounded, many of them civilians.

Meanwhile warlords Mohamed Afrah Qanyare, Issa Botan Alin, who were also evicted from Mogadishu last week, and little-known local warlord Abdu Nure Said hastily fled Jowhar, about 90 kilometres (55 miles) north of Mogadishu, as gunmen closed in on them.

They rode out of Jowhar, where they had gone after being routed from Mogadishu last week, aboard a convoy of pick-up trucks mounted with machine guns.

Earlier Tuesday Somalia’s neighbours stepped in to try to resolve the crisis, with Yemen offering to mediate and the seven-nation grouping imposing sanctions on the warlords.

Yemen’s official Saba news agency said President Ali Abdullah Saleh would pursue a reconciliation drive between the Islamic courts controlling the capital and the Somali transitional government, which is currently based in Baidoa to the northwest.

It quoted the Yemeni envoy to Somalia, Ahmad Omer, as saying the country wanted to "push forward dialogue" between the courts and government to "restore tranquility in Somalia". The Baidoa government welcomed the move.

Meanwhile a meeting of the seven-nation east African Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD), which has overseen past Somali peace talks in Kenya, slapped travel bans and froze bank accounts of Somali warlords who have been involved in the clashes.

It said it would exempt only those who surrender and negotiate with the government.

IGAD also agreed to catalogue the use of illegal arms in Somalia. The ministers agreed that the UN arms embargo should stay, but that exemptions should be made to allow the government to establish law and order.

The United States announced that the newly formed Somalia Contact Group would meet at the UN headquarters on Thursday, and that the European Union had signed on to the initiative.

The United Nations and African Union will attend the gathering as observers, while representatives of Britain, Norway, Sweden, Italy and Tanzania — but not Somalia — will attend, the State Department said.

Washington’s concern over the rise of Islamist power in Somalia, which it fears could spawn a Taliban-like regime, surfaced in February when it supported the creation of the ARPCT.

US authorities have given the alliance cash and intelligence information. But some analysts have warned their support is backfiring by giving Islamists a common cause to rally around — foreign intervention.

The Islamic courts, meanwhile, have increasingly won support from the battle-weary Somalis owing to their slow but steady success in the restoration of order under their control.

The hardline courts have denied claims they have links with extremist groups such as Al-Qaeda and that they harbour foreign fighters.

Instead they claim to have concrete plans to restore stability in Somalia, a feat that the United Nations, the United States and the largely powerless transitional Somali government have so far failed to accomplish.

Since the 1991 ouster of Barre, the Horn of Africa nation has been wracked by factional fighting, scuppering more than 14 internationally-backed efforts to restore a functional government.

(ST)

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