Sunday, July 27, 2008

Somalia: Except for the al Qaeda connection and the pirates - no one much cares

How to win friends and influence people: Somalia Islamist warns U.N.,
The man who claims to be Somalia's new opposition leader promised Friday to pacify his shattered country through Islamic law, warning U.N. peacekeepers they will face attack if they deploy and support the government.

Sheik Hassan Dahir Aweys, whose Islamic regime was ousted from power in 2006 with tacit support from the United States, is gaining influence again as a deadly insurgency ruptures Somalia. Thousands have been killed in the fighting since 2007.
"Fighting U.N. peacekeepers depends on how they behave in Somalia," Aweys told The Associated Press in an interview that touched on subjects ranging from accusations of terrorism — which he denied — to his four wives and 22 children.

The U.N. Security Council has said it would consider deploying peacekeepers to replace African Union troops if political reconciliation and security improve
An Iraq-style Islamic insurgency, which Aweys promised after he was driven from power with the help of Ethiopian troops, has contributed to a humanitarian emergency, with millions of Somalis dependent on aid. The United States fears Somalia could become a haven for al-Qaida.
Kenya, and Tanzania just to its south, have already been victims of al-Qaida terrorism. The U.S. embassies in those countries were bombed in 1998, and militants attacked a hotel and an Israeli airliner in Kenya in 2002.

The attacks emanated from Somalia.

Somalia has been without a functioning government since 1991, when clan warlords ousted longtime dictator Mohamed Siad Barre and then turned on each other. The current government was formed in 2004 with the help of the United Nations but has failed to protect citizens from violence or the country's breathtaking poverty.

In recent years, the United States backed a secret program to pay Mogadishu's widely detested warlords to help track down those in Somalia with links to terrorism. But the policy backfired when the Islamists united under Aweys and ousted the warlords from the capital.
The same UN which is threatened by Aweys has a at least one voice shouting in the wilderness about protecting Somalia's offshore economic rights - which are now frequently violated by fishing vessels from around the world, but specifically include North Korea, China and Taiwan:
The UN special envoy for Somalia on Friday sounded the alarm about rampant illegal fishing and the dumping of toxic waste off the coast of the lawless African nation.

"Because there is no (effective) government, there is so much irregular fishing from European and Asian countries," Ahmedou Ould Abdallah told reporters.

He said he had asked several international non-governmental organizations, including Global Witness, which works to break the links between natural resource exploitation, conflict, corruption, and human rights abuses worldwide, "to trace this illegal fishing, illegal dumping of waste."

"It is a disaster off the Somali coast, a disaster (for) the Somali environment, the Somali population," he added.

Ould Abdallah said the phenomenon helps fuel the endless civil war in Somalia as the illegal fishermen are paying corrupt Somali ministers or warlords for protection or to secure fake licenses.
Foreign trawlers reportedly use prohibited fishing equipment, including nets with very small mesh sizes and sophisticated underwater lighting systems, to lure fish to their traps.

"I am convinced there is dumping of solid waste, chemicals and probably nuclear (waste).... There is no government (control) and there are few people with high moral ground," Ould Abdallah added.

Allegations of waste dumping off Somalia by European companies have been heard for years, according to Somalia watchers. The problem was highlighted in the wake of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami when broken hazardous waste containers washed up on Somali shores.
Some Somali pirates have reportedly claimed to be acting as "coastguards" protecting their waters from illegal fishing and dumping of toxic waste.

Ould Abdallah cited the case of a Spanish trawler captured by pirates while illegally fishing for tuna off Somalia in April.
Once again, "coast guarding" is one thing, capturing ships that have nothing to do with either fishing or dumping is another thing all together.

However, since the only way to "save Somalia" is probably completely take it over, except for the potential al Qaeda link, no rational country wants anything to do with the place.

International aid worker moving out:
By December this year, aid agencies estimate that the number of displaced and hungry people in need of life-saving aid in Somalia will swell to 3.5 million-nearly half the country's population. Yet, as drought and conflict conspire to worsen the crisis, the humanitarian space to deliver food and other essential assistance in this conflict zone has all but vanished.

"At sea, ships carrying aid face the threat of piracy, on land (aid workers face) armed robbery and kidnapping," says Abdullahi Musse, a Somali worker for an international humanitarian organisation. "Then, in the process of reaching our warehouses as well as on their way to the beneficiaries, the trucks cannot move without security escorts and have to pass through countless checkpoints which cannot be crossed without paying a 'fee' to a variety of armed groups.

"It is a high-risk activity with minimal guarantees of security," says Musse.
All international aid workers and UN staff have been forced out by continuous fighting between Islamic insurgent groups and forces of the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) backed by Ethiopian troops. Both sides accuse each other of attacks on aid workers and vow to protect them. Added to this are professional kidnapping rings, which have been encouraged by the large ransoms paid by foreigners to release ships taken by pirates.

The UN agencies and nine international organisations still maintain a presence in Mogadishu, but they rely exclusively on local staff. Musse told IPS over the phone from Mogadishu that Somali workers, too, are now being targeted and aid delivery has completely stalled.
Unfortunately, this sense of urgency in the humanitarian sector is not matched by developments on the political front. With the help of Ethiopian forces, the TFG controls a few towns in south-central region while an assortment of Islamic groups remain in ascendancy in most of the territory. (The Puntland and Somaliland regions in north and north-western Somalia claim autonomous status.)

The UN-brokered peace agreement in Djibouti between the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) and leaders of the Union of Islamic Court has split the UIC. Radical Islamic factions reject the deal and increased attacks in south-central regions.

The Islamic courts are now divided into two main groups: the Djibouti group headed by Sheikh Sharif and signatory to the peace deal with TFG, and the Asmara group based in Eritrea and led by Hasan Dahir Aweys, an Afghan war veteran who is now wanted by the United States on terrorism charges for his alleged links with al-Qaeda.

"It is difficult to say how much control these two have over Al-Shabab, a group which is also on the U.S. terror list, and other insurgent groups of 'mujaheddin' (holy warriors) that have waged a war to throw out the Ethiopian forces from Somalia," says Bashir Awale, a radio journalist based in Mogadishu. Bashir says many previously unknown groups with Islamic names have recently issued threats against humanitarian workers. "But the TFG forces are equally culpable of deterring aid," says Bashir who points to the fact that there are four TFG checkpoints within a few kilometres drive to from Mogadishu to Afgoye and dozens more within the city.

Given the volatile and complex nature of the conflict, the UN special representative is seeking an international peacekeeping force to stabilise the country and provide cover to humanitarian operations. Ould-Abdalla believes that in "the current favourable political context following the Djibouti Agreement, it is time for the Security Council to take bold, decisive and fast action."

However, when asked if the United States would lead a coalition of countries into Somalia to implement the peace deal, US Ambassador to the UN Zalmay Khalilzad said: "Well, you know that we are quite busy as you know, number one. Number two, that there are always issues with the U.S. leading a coalition "

Blaming al-Qaeda related groups for the attacks on humanitarian workers, Khalilzad did not agree to prompt Security Council action. He said no plan for a peacekeeping force will be discussed before August 15, when the Security Council Secretariat is expected to present a future plan for Somalia. A peacekeeping force with a strong mandate could take months.
An update on the Somali pirates
Meanwhile, Somali pirates have shifted their operations to the far north, on the Gulf of Aden (which separates Somalia from Yemen, in southern Arabia). Over 80 percent of the pirate attacks are now taking place in the Gulf of Aden, where heavy Red Sea traffic provides a larger number of potential victims.
For the last three years, an international naval patrol, CTF 150 (Combined Task Force 150, operating out of Djibouti) has patrolled the 3,000 kilometer long coast. But with only about fifteen ships (from half a dozen nations), the CTF 150 has been able to slow down the pirates, but not stop them.

Moreover, unless this coastal patrol force was willing to send troops ashore to kill or arrest the pirates in the land bases, the pirates will keep playing hide-and-seek with the naval patrols, and continue to attack ships and get away with it.

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