Heavy fighting erupts in Somalia

March 22nd, 2007 Print Print Email Email

BBC | March 21st, 2007

Angry Somalis Heavy fighting has broken out in the Somali capital, Mogadishu, between government forces backed by TPLF troops and armed insurgents. Photos appear to show angry crowds dragging dead soldiers’ bodies through the streets and setting them alight.

A BBC correspondent says seven people were killed in the battle, the heaviest since the Islamists fell last year. Some 1,200 African Union troops were deployed to Mogadishu this month to try to bring stability to the city. Dozens have been killed during insurgent attacks in Mogadishu in the past two-and-a-half months, which the government blames on remnants of the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC). TPLF troops, who have been in the city since December supporting Somali forces loyal to the transitional government, have been gradually handing over responsibilities to the AU force.


The BBC’s Mohammed Olad Hassan says Somali and TPLF troops, supported by tanks and armoured vehicles, entered an insurgent stronghold in central Mogadishu before dawn. They were met by hundreds of masked insurgents. Photographs of the incident show people gathered around the body of a soldier killed during the fighting. Other pictures posted on the Shabelle Media Network’s website appear to show the bodies of two soldiers being dragged through the streets.
Shabelle reports that one was a Somalia government soldier, the other an TPLF fighter. Correspondents say the scenes evoke memories of events in 1993 when the bodies of US soldiers were dragged through the streets of Mogadishu by militiamen. Somalia enjoyed a six-month lull in the insecurity that had dogged the country for the past 16 years when the UIC took power last year. But insecurity has returned to the city and the UN estimates some 40,000 people have fled from Mogadishu since February. Our correspondent says there has been a dramatic escalation in attacks against government targets in recent weeks. It comes at a time when the government says it plans to hold a national reconciliation conference in Mogadishu in April. Insurgents may want to signal that the city is not safe to hold the meeting in, he says.


When UIC leaders were forced out of Somalia, militants among them promised they would start an insurgency war against the TPLF army on which the Somali transitional government depends. But BBC Africa analyst David Bamford says the insurgents fighting in Mogadishu are not just Islamists and the fighting is more deep-rooted. They also include, and may well predominantly consist of, militiamen loyal to the main clan in the city, the Hawiye. Many of its leaders have long been hostile towards TPLF involvement in Somalia. On Tuesday night, just a few hours before fighting broke out, Hawiye clan leaders and traditional elders held a meeting in the city. They issued a statement hostile to both the transitional government and TPLF. They also expressed their lack of faith in the AU peacekeeping force from Uganda which has started deploying in Mogadishu. The transitional government is led by President Abdullahi Yusuf, who hails from Puntland and is from the Darod clan. He is accused by the Hawiye of precipitating this crisis by bringing in his own militiamen and relying on the mistrusted TPLF.

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    Somalia tops list of countries where minorities most under threat

    Download the State of the World’s Minorities 2007

    Somalia is the world’s most dangerous country for minority communities and has overtaken Iraq to top a global ranking of countries where minorities are most under threat, Minority Rights Group International (MRG) says in a new global survey.

    Fierce fighting and the threat of state repression have seen Somalia, Iraq and Sudan lead this year’s ranking of ‘Peoples under Threat’, which is a major feature of MRG’s annual ‘State of the World’s Minorities’ report. Last year Iraq led the list and Somalia was in third place.

    ‘A new government in Somalia has raised hopes for democracy, but it is also a uniquely dangerous time. There is the spectre of a return of large-scale clan violence – and groups that supported the old order are now under tremendous threat,” Mark Lattimer, Director of MRG says.

    Key allies of the US in its ‘war on terror’, including the governments of Pakistan, Turkey and Israel, intensified repression of particular ethnic communities in 2006. Pakistan is in the top 20 list and Turkey and Israel/OT have both shown major rises in the rankings.

    “US allies have managed to barter their support for the war on terror in return for having their human rights record ignored,” says Lattimer.

    “The debate continues to rage about whether the ‘war on terror’ has made the world a safer place for the West, but it has certainly made it a much more dangerous place for minorities,” Lattimer adds.

    According to the report one of the main spill-offs of the war on terror has been the rise in Islamaphobia in the EU including the UK – affecting millions of ethnic Arab and South Asian and other Muslim minorities.

    African States make up more than half of the top 20 list. Sudan is third in the list – a consequence of the continuing appalling levels of violence in Darfur, targeted at farmers such as Zaghawa, Masalit and Fur tribes, by government forces and Arab militia (Janjaweed), and the continuing failure of the international community to find ways of stopping the violence.

    Iraq continues to see targeted killings of people from minority groups including Christians, Yezidis and Mandaeans. Other minority groups in Iraq face daily violence, torture and political assimilation, which has led to an exodus of these communities from the country.

    Another major riser in the rankings is Turkey where tensions surrounding the EU accession process are driving a growth in virulent religious and nationalist extremism. These were thrust into the international spotlight by the murder of Turkish-Armenian human rights lawyer Hrant Dink in late December 2006. But the biggest jump of all is Sri Lanka which saw a return to conflict last year and which moved 47 places since 2006 to be ranked 14th in 2007. Minority Tamils and Muslims are not only caught up in fighting between government and rebel forces but are targeted for human rights abuses including abductions and disappearances because of their minority status. Afghanistan, Burma and Thailand are other Asian countries leading the list.

    “In three-quarters of the world’s conflicts, the killing is now targeted at particular ethnic or religious groups. Because they are usually minorities their suffering is largely ignored,” Lattimer says.

    “International leaders must wake up to the fact that many of today’s conflicts, particularly in Africa, are the result of decades of economic marginalization of minorities and indigenous peoples.”

    Notes to editors

    Minority Rights Group International (MRG) is a non governmental organisation working to secure the rights of ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities and indigenous peoples worldwide.
    The report will be launched at a press conference at the UN in New York on Tuesday, 20th March at 10:30 a.m.
    Details of minority groups in each of these countries can be found in the ‘Peoples under threat’ rankings attached with this release.
    Interview opportunities are available with:
    Ishbel Matheson, MRG spokesperson in New York
    Mark Lattimer, MRG’s Director, in Geneva
    Specialist interviews with MRG experts on particular regions or countries can also be arranged
    Download the State of the World’s Minorities 2007
    For more information or arrange interviews please contact Farah Mihlar or Emma Eastwood on +44 2074224205 (office) or +447870596863/ 00447989699984 (mobile) or farah.mihlar@mrgmail.org or emma.eastwood@mrgmail.org


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