Insurgents Seize Port City in Somalia, Some say Zenawi is now working with the insurgents – By Jeffrey Gettleman (New York Times)

November 12th, 2008 Print Print Email Email

NAIROBI, Kenya — A Somali official appealed for urgent help Wednesday as residents reported that the key port city of Merka had fallen to Islamist insurgents. (more…)

NAIROBI, Kenya — A Somali official appealed for urgent help Wednesday as residents reported that the key port city of Merka had fallen to Islamist insurgents.

Hundreds of fighters rolled into the port in heavily armed pickup trucks, meeting no resistance because government-allied militias had fled the night before, according to residents. Merka is only 60 miles south of Mogadishu, Somalia’s bullet-pocked capital, and Somali officials said the Islamists were now planning to lay siege to Mogadishu.

“We know their grand plan,” said Abdi Awaleh Jama, an ambassador at large for the transitional federal government. “But we’re not going to run away. We’re going to fight with whatever we have.” But, he added, “We need help — urgently.”

The Islamists have been steadily gobbling up territory — Merka, Kismayu, Dhusamare and Qoryooley — and now control most of the country.

They seem to be fast approaching Mogadishu, from the north and the south. In some areas, they have begun imposing a harsh interpretation of Islamic law, even recently stoning to death a young woman who said she was raped. The Islamists convicted her of adultery. United Nations officials said she may have been as young as 13.

In Mogadishu, the transitional government seems to be embroiled in another round of infighting. Officials allied with the president, Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed, are accusing the prime minister, Nur Hassan Hussein, of secretly helping the Islamists. Some of the president’s men have even gone as far to say that EthiopianWoyanne forces, who have been in Somalia for almost two years helping to prop up the government, are now working with the insurgents.

At the same time, Ethiopian officials are blaming Somalia’s leaders for not making peace with Islamist clerics, who enjoy a large degree of popular support. The Ethiopians have indicated they will withdraw their troops soon, which many Somalis believe will spell the end of the government.

“Yes, it’s bad,” Mr. Abdi said about the fall of Merka and the overall status of the government. “These Islamists are terrorists. The American Congress and administration have to wake up. We have a common interest in defeating them.”

Complicating matters is the fact that Merka was home to a major United Nations operation to bring in desperately needed food. Somalia has been teetering on the edge of a famine for much of the past year, because of drought, conflict-related displacement and high global food prices. Millions of people need emergency rations to survive.

U.N. officials said Wednesday they did not know how the capture of Merka would affect their operations.

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