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Somalia faces months of martial law

 

SOMALI Prime Minister Ali Mohamad Gedi said today the country's parliament would declare martial law this weekend for a period of three months. "This country has experienced anarchy and in order to restore security we need a strong hand, especially with freelance militias," he said in Mundul Sharey, his home village, some 40km southwest of Mogadishu.

It was Mr Gedi's first visit to his village since 2002 and came hours after Ethiopian troops and Somali government forces pushed Islamist fighters out of the capital they had controlled for six months.

Meanwhile, the United Nations said today it was gearing up to speed emergency aid to Somalis driven from their homes by war after the interim government approved the resumption of relief flights.

"The Transitional Federal Government has now authorised the resumption of all UN humanitarian flights into Somalia with immediate effect," the UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said at UN headquarters in New York.

The people of Somalia, already living in one of the world's poorest and most violent nations, have faced increased suffering after more than a week of fighting between Islamist soldiers and forces loyal to Somalia's transitional government, backed by Ethiopian troops.

Even before the conflict broke out last week, the World Food Program had been providing emergency aid to more than half a million of Somalia's 10 million people affected by a severe drought followed by flooding.

While aid flights were suspended temporarily after Somalia closed its international borders during the fighting, plans were now under way for a resumption of shipments, OCHA said.

"This resumption of access is critical for the people of Somalia, who have suffered from years of conflict, drought and now flooding," acting UN Emergency Relief Co-ordinator Margareta Wahlstrom.

She also reminded the warring parties it was their responsibility to provide safe passage for people trying to flee areas of active conflict.

While thousands of families were reported to have fled their homes for other parts of Somalia to avoid the fighting, there had been no large-scale flow of war-related refugees into neighbouring Kenya, OCHA said.

There was also "no significant displacement" reported from Mogadishu.

Relief workers have been struggling to maintain operations in chaotic Somalia since 1991, the year dictator Mohamed Siad Barre was ousted from power.

The country has had no effective central government since then, making it hard for aid groups to operate in safety and gain access to those in need.

Ethiopian PM denies U.S. involvement in Ethiopia's counterattacks in Somalia

ADDIS ABABA, Dec. 28 (Xinhua) -- Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi on Thursday denied U.S. involvement in the country's counterattacks on Somalia's Union of Islamic Courts (UIC).

"The U.S. hasn't contributed a single bullet, a single soldier or a single military equipment to this operation," Meles told a press conference in Addis Ababa.

"We have with the U.S. long standing arrangements to share intelligence on terrorist activities in the neighborhood and that sharing of intelligence has not been stopped during the conflict. This is the sum total of our close partnership with the U.S. and the so-called involvement of the U.S. in the Somali crisis."

He said the UIC has simply melted away and that its grassroot militia have surrendered and abandoned Mogadishu to their clan bases on Wednesday evening and Thursday morning.

In the process of their disbanding and scatter out of Mogadishu, UIC members distributed the guns under their control to unemployed youths in the town to create havoc in the wake of their withdrawal, said Meles.

These newly-armed unemployed youth have now been involving in widespread acts of violence and robbery in the town, he said.

He also said the Shura Council which presides over the UIC leadership has crumpled, adding that the existence of the UIC is no more. "Currently, there are only remnants of the group moving towards the seacoast."

Meles reiterated Ethiopia's object is defending the danger posed against it, saying that upon completion of this mission, the Ethiopian army would withdraw from Somalia.

He said the mission will continue until those responsible are put under control. "We are planning to stay there for a month hopefully it would be completed in days if not a few weeks at most, but once we have done that we are out of it."

"The Ethiopian mission in Somalia is limited and targeted at defending against the attacks of the extremist force on Ethiopia and Somalia. If this accomplished, Somalis will solve their internal problem."

Meles said his government would provide support to Somalia's Transitional Federal Government (TFG) in the latter's efforts to stabilize the situation in Mogadishu.

He said Ethiopia may provide support to help Somalis solve their problems provided that it is requested to do so and provided that it has the capacity.

However, he said what Somalis demand is beyond the capacity of Ethiopia. "Their demand is a huge humanitarian relief assistance and a peacekeeping force," he said.

On Thursday, TFG Prime Minister Mohamed Ali Gedi said TFG troops have entered areas of Mogadishu, hours after the UIC abandoned the capital city. At the weekend, Ethiopia began a major offensive to support the weak government against the UIC, which previously held much of central and southern Somalia.

UNSC fails to issue statement to halt Somalia fighting

UNITED NATIONS, Dec 28 (KUNA) -- The Security Council, once again, failed late Wednesday to issue a presidential statement calling on the Somali Transitional Federal Government (TFG) and the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC) to immediately cease hostilities, after council members failed to agree on how to call on foreign forces to withdraw from the country.

The council members discussed the draft statement late Tuesday but failed to reach consensus.

Qatari charge d'affaires Mutlaq Al-Qahtani, whose country called for a council session on Tuesday to discuss the deteriorating situation in Somalia, told reporters that his delegation showed flexibility today and no longer insists on naming the Ethiopian forces by name.

Asked if other council members supported his delegation, he said that is not the point. The point is that if just one country is against the statement, it won't be adopted. Consensus is needed.

He said he was surprised at some members' insistence on ignoring this point even though the African Union, the Arab League, and the Intergovernmental Authority for Development (IGAD) called from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, earlier today on Ethiopian forces by name to leave Somalia.

The US made it known that the presence of Ethiopian troops in Somalia is not the issue.

US deputy envoy Alejandro Wolff told reporters that the situation in Somalia is a "complex one. It is a mistake to look at the issue as a result of Ethiopian troops in the country." "The understanding we all have is that this is not simply an issue about Ethiopian troops in Somalia. As long as you keep focusing on that point, you are missing the real underlining issue that led to the conflict," he added.

Secretary General Kofi Annan reiterated his appeal late Wednesday to neighboring countries to stay out of the crisis in Somalia and respect its sovereignty and territorial integrity.

He told reporters he spoke to Ethiopia's Prime Minister Meles Zenawi who assured him that the Ethiopian troops are in Somalia for a "limited operation and that they will be out in a few days." Ethipian troops are in Somalia, supposedly at the invitation of the TFG, to crush the UIC troops who until last week controlled most of the country.(end) sj.

Perilous smuggling voyage from Somalia claims more lives off Yemen coast

GENEVA – Seventeen people are confirmed dead and some 140 missing after the smugglers' boats they were travelling in from Somalia across the Gulf of Aden capsized off the Yemen coast.

The incident, involving four boats smuggling 515 people, occurred late Wednesday as the vessels were spotted approaching the coastline by Yemeni authorities. Survivors said the boats had set sail from Shimbarale in Somalia, carrying mainly Somalis and Ethiopians.

Two of the smugglers' boats had reportedly offloaded their passengers and were then fired on by Yemeni security forces. According to Yemeni officials, the smugglers returned fire. The third and fourth boats – which had been waiting further offshore in the dark – tried to escape back to sea. One capsized near Al-Baida after it became unbalanced by agitated passengers. Authorities said several people were trapped under the boat. The other vessel, pursued by two Yemeni coastguard boats and a helicopter, was forced to head back to shore. But 300 metres from the beach, it capsized in the heavy seas.

Yemeni authorities said Thursday they captured all 17 smugglers and their four boats, and that a search operation was still underway for survivors.

UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres said he was shocked by the loss of life.

"I am deeply saddened by this latest tragedy involving smugglers' boats carrying desperate people across the Gulf of Aden," Guterres said in Geneva. "Despite efforts to halt this horrible trade, brutal smugglers continue to prey on the desperation of poor people fleeing persecution and violence and those looking for better economic opportunities elsewhere. We urgently need a concerted international effort aimed at addressing root causes, educating would-be migrants and cracking down on the smugglers and traffickers based in Somalia."

The 357 survivors from Wednesday's incident were taken to UNHCR's Mayfa'a reception centre to recover from their ordeal and were given food and medical assistance.

Somalis on the boat said they came from the troubled areas of Bur-Hakaba, Baidawa and Belet Weyne in central Somalia. Many of them said they fled as a result of the current conflict between the Ethiopian-backed Somali Transition Federal Government and the Islamic Courts Union. UNHCR fears the current upsurge in fighting in southern and central Somalia could create a new wave of refugees and is asking neighbouring countries to keep their doors open to those seeking sanctuary.

Earlier this month, UNHCR expressed concern after Yemeni authorities fired on boats, killing two people.

More than 25,800 people have been recorded arriving in Yemen from Somalia this year. At least 330 people have died making the dangerous journey. Nearly 300 are missing, including 141 from Wednesday's incident, according to UNHCR records.

The boats from Somalia usually land along a remote, 300-km stretch of tribal-ruled coastline. UNHCR has only limited access to much of the insecure coast.

Somalis reaching Yemen get automatic refugee status because many are fleeing violent conflict, though not all apply for it. Ethiopians are not automatically considered refugees, but can have cases heard individually. There are currently more than 88,000 registered refugees in Yemen, of whom 84,000 are Somalis.


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