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Four Swedes arrested in Somalia

 

STOCKHOLM, Sweden (CNN) -- Four Swedes have been arrested in Somalia on suspicion of possibly having fought alongside Islamic militants, but the four have not yet been charged, Swedish officials told CNN.

"Four Swedes have been arrested in connection with the unrest in Somalia," Swedish Foreign Ministry spokesman Andre Mkandawire told CNN.

Three of the four were Swedish citizens, while the fourth had permanent residency status, said Mkandawire. "But all four are being treated equally as Swedes."

Somalia has long been a volatile, war-torn nation. Recently, Somalia forces -- backed by the Ethiopian military -- ousted the militant Islamic Courts Union from power and established a transitional government.

It is not clear precisely where, when and by whom the four have been detained.

Jens Odlander -- Sweden's ambassador for the Somali peace process who is based in the Swedish Embassy in Nairobi, Kenya -- said the four apparently were seized as they were fleeing a war zone, possibly in early January.

No charges have been filed against the four detained people at the present time, Odlander told CNN from Nairobi.

Odlander said three of those detained have dual citizenship -- Swedish and other nationalities he wouldn't disclose.

Two were in bad health when they were seized, and one of them had been held in Kenya for a while.

Odlander said there are ongoing talks on the detentions, but would not provide more details about them, saying the diplomatic situation is very sensitive at the moment. Officials at the Swedish Embassy in Nairobi were also working to provide consular assistance to the four detained.

Officials from Somalia's transitional government could not be reached for comment.

Sweden has decided to be involved in helping Somalia's war-wracked economy and infrastructure.

The Swedish government said on Monday it would give Somalia's transitional government financial aid for its long-term development -- about $7 million for 2007, and humanitarian aid amounting to $14 million.

Gov't bans reports of attacks, displacement

NAIROBI, 20 February (IRIN) - The Somali government has stopped three media groups in the capital, Mogadishu, from carrying reports on increasing violence and displacement of civilians, saying the media was exaggerating numbers.

"We simply want them not to create panic among the population," Gen Nur Muhammad Mahamud, deputy chief of the Somali national security agency, said from Mogadishu. "The country is under martial law, which curtails certain liberties. They are free to report but within the current martial law."

Muhammad Amin Sheikh Adow, deputy chairman of the Shabelle Media Network, told IRIN that the order from the transitional government was directed at HornAfrik radio and television, Shabelle Media Network and Benadir Radio.

The three media houses are the biggest in Mogadishu.

"Yesterday [Monday], we had a meeting [with Gen Muhamud]," Adow said. "He ordered us not to carry any reports about displacement of people, military operations involving Ethiopian and Somali forces and attacks [by unknown gunmen on Ethiopian and government forces]."

Ahmed Ali Mahamud, the director of Benadir radio, who also attended the meeting, said the government had threatened to appoint editors to join the respective stations to monitor their reporting.

The stations, he added, would, however, "not allow anyone to sit in our boardrooms to monitor our work [because] it is an attempt to intimidate the media and it will not work".

The government order follows the killing on Friday of a reporter in the southwestern town of Baidoa. The death of Ali Muhammad Umar, an employee of Warsan Radio, was condemned by both the Somali National Union of Journalists and International Federation of Journalists (IFJ).

Omar Faruk Osman, secretary-general of the union, said: "This shocking attack is absolutely intolerable, and we ask the Transitional Federal Government to make a prompt investigation and find those responsible."

IFJ General Secretary Aidan White said: "There is a pattern of attacks on the press and violence against journalists which requires urgent official action."

Meanwhile, Mogadishu residents experienced another night of violence and shelling on Monday. "I do not think anyone slept last night. The bombardment went on till four this morning [Tuesday]," said Muhammad Ibrahim Rage, a local resident. "There are still families on the streets fleeing the neighbourhoods that were hit by the exchange of shells."

Mortar bombs, he added, struck a base for Ethiopian forces in Digfer hospital and Villa Somalia presidential compound, prompting government and Ethiopian troops to respond with rockets and artillery shells.

The worst-hit areas were Bakaara Market, Casa Populare, and Al Baraka areas [all in Hodan district, south Mogadishu], according to residents.

Somalia's transitional government, backed by Ethiopian forces, took control of Mogadishu on 28 December after the Union of Islamic Courts abandoned the city a day earlier.


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