26 December 2006
Security Council
SC/8930

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Security Council

5614th Meeting (PM)


SPECIAL REPRESENTATIVE ON SOMALIA, BRIEFING SECURITY COUNCIL, SAYS CRISIS


‘ESCALATED DANGEROUSLY’, FIGHTING EXPANDED ACROSS 400-KILOMETRE FRONT


Warns Deteriorating Situation Has Dealt Blow to Resumption

Of Peace Talks, Compounded Already Serious Humanitarian Crisis


The crisis in Somalia had escalated dangerously, as hostilities between the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) and the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC) had expanded across a 400-kilometer wide front, involving foreign forces and the use of heavy weapons and aircraft, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative and head of the United Nations Political Office for that country said today.


Briefing the Council on unfolding developments just four days after the 15-member body had called on the parties in Somalia to draw back from conflict and recommit to dialogue, François Lonseny Fall warned that, unless a political settlement was reached through negotiations, Somalia would face a period of deepening conflict and heightened instability, “which would be disastrous for the long-suffering people of Somalia, and could also have serious consequences for the entire region”. 


Urging the Council today to call on the two sides to immediately halt the fighting and not to take any further provocative actions, and to urgently return to dialogue without preconditions, he stressed that the deteriorating situation had dealt a serious blow to the resumption of peace talks and compounded an already serious humanitarian crisis.  In the weeks leading to the adoption of resolution 1725 (2006) on 6 December, which modified the arms embargo and authorized the establishment of a joint Intergovernmental Authority for Development (IGAD) - African Union force to protect the Transitional Government in Baidoa, there had been a gradual escalation in war rhetoric and tension between the sides.


Providing the Council with the details of key events contributing to the worsening situation, he noted that, on 12 December the UIC had announced that Ethiopia had seven days to withdraw its forces from Somalia, or it would face a major conflict.  On 20 December, heavy fighting had broken out in the Bay region and soon spread to the central Galkayo, Hiran and Middle Shabelle Administrative regions, where the forces of the UIC had been confronting those of the warlords of the former Alliance for the Restoration of Peace and Counter-Terrorism.  The TFG had now announced the closure of Somalia’s international borders “on security grounds” and had called on the international community to help enforce that ban.


As the fighting spread, both sides accused each other of getting military support from foreign forces, he said.  There had been consistent reports of the presence of the troops from Ethiopia inside Somalia and their involvement, together with heavy artillery and aircraft, in the fighting on the side of the TFG.  Both Mogadishu Airport and a military airfield in Baledugle had been subjected to Ethiopian air strikes.  Reports also mentioned the presence of Eritrea on the side of the UIC, although that country had consistently denied it.


While neither side had completely rejected a return to dialogue, it had so far not been possible to reconcile the preconditions introduced by both parties for a resumption of the talks, he said.  Disagreements on various preconditions between the delegations of the TFG and the UIC had resulted in the postponement of the third round of Khartoum talks in October.


The meeting began at 3:05 p.m. and adjourned at 3:26 p.m.


Briefing Summary


Briefing the Security Council, FRANÇOIS LONSENY FALL, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and head of the United Nations Political Office for Somalia, said that the crisis had escalated dangerously as the hostilities between the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) and the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC) had now expanded across a 400-kilometre front.  The conflict now involved foreign forces and the use of heavy weapons and aircraft.  The deteriorating situation in Somalia had no doubt dealt a serious blow to efforts aimed at an early resumption of peace talks.  The fighting had also compounded an already serious humanitarian crisis, resulting in additional displacement of populations.


After the Council had adopted its resolution 1725 (2006) on 6 December, modifying the arms embargo and authorizing the establishment of a joint Intergovernmental Authority for Development (IGAD) - African Union force to protect the Government in Baidoa, the TFG had warmly welcomed that text, but the UIC had rejected it, claiming that it could lead to fighting in the region, he continued.  The UIC had added that the deployment of foreign forces in Somalia was tantamount to an invasion of the country.  In any event, neither IGAD, nor the African Union had identified potential troop contributors or possible sources of funding for the joint force, as authorized by resolution 1725.  In the weeks leading to the adoption of that resolution, there had been a gradual escalation in war rhetoric and tensions between the two sides.  On 7 December, intermittent clashes had begun between militiamen loyal to the UIC and the TFG forces in the Bay Administrative region south of Baidoa.  At the same time, the UIC had accused Ethiopia of illegally deploying troops in Somalia in support of the TFG.  On 12 December, Yusuf Mohamed Siyad Indhaade, the Defence Secretary of the UIC, had announced that Ethiopia had seven days to withdraw its forces from Somalia, or it would face a major conflict.


He said that, on 20 December, heavy fighting had broken out in the Bay region and had soon spread to the central Galkayo, Hiran and Middle Shabelle Administrative regions, where the forces of the UIC had been confronting those of the warlords of the former Alliance for the Restoration of Peace and Counter-Terrorism.  After several days of intense fighting, the TFG forces and their allies had taken control of several areas from the UIC, including the towns of Bandiradley, Beletweyne, Bulo-barde, Burhakaba and Dinsor.  According to reports, TFG forces and their allies were now heading towards Jowhar.  Other reports suggested that another TFG force was approaching Wanla-weyn in Lower Shabelle.  Those forces were thus reportedly marching towards Mogadishu from at least two directions.  However, they were still facing stiff resistance from UIC militias and their allies in several areas.  Fighting was also continuing in the central Mudug and Galgudud regions.  The TFG had announced the closure of Somalia’s international borders “on security grounds” and had called on the international community, particularly the neighbouring States, to help enforce that ban.


As the fighting had spread, both sides accused each other of getting military support from foreign forces, he continued.  There had been consistent reports of the presence of the troops from Ethiopia inside Somalia and their involvement, together with heavy artillery and aircraft, in the fighting on the side of the TFG.  Both Mogadishu airport and a military airfield in Baledugle had been subjected to Ethiopian air strikes.  Reports also mentioned the presence of Eritrea on the side of the UIC, although that country had consistently denied that.


On 23 December, leaders of the UIC had issued a call for “jihad” against the Ethiopian troops, whom they accused of invading Somalia, and appealed to foreign fighters to join that “jihad”, he said.  The Ethiopian Government, on 24 December, had admitted the presence of its combat troops inside Somalia.  In an official statement, Prime Minister Meles Zenawi declared that his country had “taken self-defensive measures and started counter-attacking the aggressive extremist forces of the Islamic Courts and foreign terrorist groups”.


Civilians had been caught up in the fighting, he added, with reports of several deaths and injuries.  Some 760 war-wounded had been officially registered by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in hospitals in southern Somalia.  ICRC had provided war-wounded kits for 1,500 patients and planned to distribute additional kits in Baidoa and Mogadishu, subject to security guarantees by the TFG.  The fighting had also severely undermined the provision of relief assistance to 2 million conflict- and flood-affected people in south-central Somalia.  All United Nations and non-governmental organization international staff had been evacuated, including the United Nations Disaster Assessment and Coordination team deployed in response to the flood emergency.  Two helicopters used for the flood response had been relocated to Kenya.


Internal displacement had been localized, with people moving within districts seeking clan protection, he said.  Reportedly, up to half the population of Beletwyne had fled the town.  Large-scale movements were reported towards Galkayo in the north and Kismayo in the south.  However, numbers had not yet been verified.  Kenya was already hosting 35,000 new Somali refugees.  The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees was planning to meet with the Kenyan authorities tomorrow to discuss planning for an additional refugee camp in northern Kenya.  Humanitarian agencies had received reports from young men fleeing Mogadishu that children were being forcibly recruited into fighting forces.


Security and access permitting, United Nations agencies and partner non-governmental organizations would attempt to build on the ongoing flood response to deliver assistance to new internally displaced persons and conflict-affected populations through national staff and local non-governmental organizations.


He noted that, on 22 December, the Secretary-General had strongly deplored the outbreak of fighting between the forces of the TFG and the UIC.  He had expressed concern at the escalation of conflict and its disastrous consequences for civilians, who were already suffering from the effects of years of instability and deprivation, compounded by the recent flooding.  He had called on the two sides to cease the hostilities immediately and to resume the peace talks initiated in Khartoum without delay or preconditions.  The Secretary-General had also expressed grave concern at the continuous reports of the involvement of foreign forces in the current conflict, and he had implored all involved to respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Somalia.  He had also urged all the countries of the region to do whatever they could to ensure that the parties returned to the peace talks and pursued a negotiated settlement of the crisis.


On 26 December, he said, the Secretary-General had called the Prime Minister of Ethiopia and the President of Kenya, urging a cessation of hostilities in Somalia and reaffirming that there was no military solution to the conflict.  He had also reiterated to the two leaders the need to encourage the Somali parties to resume peace talks without preconditions.  Others in the region had also issued such appeals.


As the crisis had escalated, he said that he and other members of the international community had intensified their contacts with the two parties, encouraging them to avoid conflict and return to negotiations.  The TFG had given him assurances that it would heed his requests.  On 4 December, he had met with the top leadership of the UIC in Mogadishu and appealed to them to return to dialogue without preconditions and halt their military expansion.  They had said they would give serious consideration to his requests.  They had also denied that they were harbouring international terrorist suspects and reiterated their invitation for an international fact-finding mission to visit Somalia and verify their claim.


Despite his appeals to halt their expansion, UIC militias had moved unopposed into the town of Dinsor, 60 kilometres from Baidoa, on 5 December, he said.  On 14 December, on the margins of the second summit of the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region, he had had contacts with several regional leaders on the situation in Somalia.  On 19 December, the International Contact Group on Somalia had met at the ambassadorial level in Nairobi to discuss the worsening situation on the ground.  The Contact Group had issued a statement calling on both parties to avoid further escalation, military action or expansion, and to resume direct talks, without preconditions. 


On 20 December, the European Union Commissioner for Humanitarian and Development Aid, Louis Michel, had urged both parties to avoid conflict and resume dialogue, he said.  Mr. Michel had also discussed the possibility of establishing the joint verification mechanism discussed during the previous rounds of Khartoum talks, and he had presented the two sides with a draft memorandum of understanding on avoiding conflict and resuming dialogue, which had not been accepted by either side.


While neither side had completely rejected a return to dialogue, it had so far not been possible to reconcile the preconditions introduced by both parties for a resumption of the talks, he said.  Disagreements on various preconditions between the delegations of the TFG and the UIC had resulted in the postponement of the third round of Khartoum talks in October.


He urged Council members to call on the two sides to immediately halt the fighting and not to take any further provocative actions.  All sides to the Somali conflict must also be urged to abide by the provisions of resolution 1725 and urgently return to dialogue, without preconditions.  “Unless a political settlement is reached through negotiations, Somalia, I am afraid, will face a period of deepening conflict and heightened instability, which would be disastrous for the long-suffering people of Somalia, and could also have serious consequences for the entire region,” he warned.


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