Al-Shabab insurgents launched mortars at the Mogadishu airport in an attempt to exterminate UN backed President on his way to a conference in Uganda on Thursday. AU peacekeepers returned fire and several civilians were killed in the cross fire. Insurgent Islamists and some MPs have accused the AU troops of the deaths. AU spokesperson has suggested that the MPs may be haboring sympathy for the insurgents.
“Three mortars were fired towards the airport as the president was leaving, they hit at perimeter of the airport,” police spokesman Abdulahi Hassan Barrise was quoted by reporters. However, the president’s plane was able to take off safely, Barrise added. President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, was on his way to an African heads of state meeting in Uganda to sign the first ever convention to protect displaced people.
Government troops backed by African Union peacekeepers have been accused by insurgent islamists as well as some of the country’s parliamentarians of opening attacks on Mogadishu’s main market and residential areas which they believe are al-Shabab strongholds. But insisting that “this is not the first time they’ve accused us,” African Union spokesperson Maj. Barigye Ba-Hoku has denied the allegations. “Anyone is free to comment on what is going on in Somalia and those parliamentarians never condemned the assassinations and shelling by al-Shabab (…) I don’t know if they have something to do with al-Shabab.” “We were not involved in any shelling at all,” he said.
Meanwhile, Sheik Ali Mohamed Hussein, al-Shabab leader known to be a hardline fanatic, told reporters Thursday that “If our people are killed today, they will see a loud cry over Kampala (Uganda) and Bujumbura (Burundi)… we will avenge our people” he said.
Civilians and insurgents
In fact, the African Union (AU) believes that al-Shabab and Hizbul Islam, two rival factions fighting for the control of parts of Mogadishu are behind the shelling that took place at the market and residential areas. According to the AU, their troops have been ordred not to return fire or attack insurgents in residential areas. Somalis civilians who incessantly bear the brunt of rival attacks have suggested that attacking the insurgents is tantamount to attacking them, since they live together in the same communities. Both sides have been accused of indiscriminate shelling.
“We have seen at least 20 dead bodies lying in the streets most of them civilians in different areas in Howlwadag, Hodan and Wardhigley districts in the south,” Ali Muse, the head of Lifeline and Nationlink Ambulance Service told journalists. More than 61 injured civilians were taken to hospital.
President Ahmed implemented Sharia law in parts of Somalia where al-Shabab controls, but the al-Shabab group, which is accused of links to al-Qaeda, still regard the president as a Western puppet. The rebel group dominates much of southern and central Somalia, while President Ahmed’s UN-backed government runs only parts of the capital.
Half of the population hungry
Plagued by conflict, Somalia has lacked an effective government since 1991. As a result, over 1.5 million Somalis are internally displaced and living in improvised camps, while hundreds of thousands of people have fled the country. Some three million people – half the population – are now in dire need of food aid.
President Ahmed has promised to make peace with Ethiopia, recruit Islamist militia fighters into a national security force and rebuild the country’s social services. He said he is prepared to discuss any political or religious issues with insurgents still fighting in Somalia. Observers argue that President Ahmend will need all his skill with words to deal with the likes of the radical Islamist al-Shabab militiamen, who control swathes of central and southern Somalia.
Somalia has struggled to build state civility since its creation in 1960 when the territories of the former British protectorate and an Italian colony merged. Relations with neighbors have been hampered by its territorial claims on Somali-inhabited areas of Ethiopia, Kenya and Djibouti.
In 2004, after protracted talks in Kenya, the main warlords and politicians signed a deal to set up a new parliament, which later appointed a president; this was the 14th attempt to establish a government since 1991. With the backing of Ethiopian troops, forces loyal to the interim administration seized control from the Islamists at the end of 2006.
However, Islamist insurgents including the Al-Shabab group fought back against the government and Ethiopian forces, regaining control of most of southern Somalia by late 2008. Ethiopia pulled its troops out in January 2009. Soon after, fighters from the Al-Shabab militia took control of Baidoa, formerly a key stronghold of the transitional government. Moderate Islamist, Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmad was then appointed as the new president; a move that was backed by the United Nations and the African Union.