|08-05-2006, 03:15 PM||#1 (permalink)|
AKA: Chief Muppet
Join Date: Aug 2004
Location: Great Britain
Islamists' grip tightens on Somalia
By Mike Pflanz, East Africa Correspondent
The African front line in the West's war on terrorism has collapsed as mass resignations from Somalia's fragile government have all but handed power to hard-line Islamists.
Twenty senior officials quit the United Nations-backed transitional administration this week. That brought to 39 - a third of the government - the number who have abandoned the struggle to stabilise the country and ward off the threat of an Islamist regime giving succour to al-Qa'eda in east Africa.
Islamic militants control much of southern Somalia
All have left office in protest at the way Ali Mohamed Gedi, the prime minister, has handled the stand-off with Islamic militants now in control of most of southern Somalia.
The Islamists' leader, Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys, has invited the defectors to join his increasingly powerful Mogadishu-based alliance of hard-liners, the Supreme Islamic Courts Council.
The prospect of the wholesale collapse of Mr Gedi's government has sent shockwaves through the Horn of Africa, where many people blame a botched attempt by the United States to oppose the Islamic militia. Washington has denied that it backed a loose alliance of warlords and businessmen that opposed the militia but lost the battle for control of Mogadishu in June.
That defeat paved the way for the militia to sweep through the south of the country, imposing sharia law, closing down cinemas and banning fans from watching football.
At first there were hopes that both sides would sit down for talks held in Khartoum aimed at working out a power-sharing deal.
Then, however, Ethiopia was reported to have sent troops over its border into Somalia, ostensibly to support the government, which has no military of its own to defend its base in the ruined town of Baidoa. Addis Ababa denies that any of its soldiers are in Somalia but the prime minister, Meles Zenawi, is Mr Gedi's closest ally and, as leader of the region's dominant, majority Christian, power, he does not want a radical Islamic state on his doorstep.
The involvement of Ethiopia in any conflict would hand the Islamists a strong card with Somalis, many of whom regard their neighbours as the traditional enemy.
There are reports that Eritrea, traditionally Ethiopia's arch foe, has paid for plane-loads of arms for the Islamists which have landed secretly at an airstrip just north of Mogadishu.
Officials in Kenya and Tanzania are looking on nervously, worried that this 14th attempt to introduce stable government in Somalia since the overthrow of the dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991 is also doomed.
They and Washington suspect that al-Qa'eda terrorists used Somalia, where Osama bin Laden once found shelter, to launch attacks against US embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam in 1998.
The Islamists deny links to bin Laden's network. But Sheikh Aweys appears on several US and United Nations terrorist lists and there are fears that, under his control, Somalia could become a haven for extremists.
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