Somalia: Will peacekeepers return?

 

Somalia’s fortunes swung like a pendulum through 2006.

 

A horrible drought followed by equally bad flooding provided a desperate humanitarian backdrop to the collapse of discredited warlords in Mogadishu in May; the rise and expansion of the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC) to some of the major population centres in the south central regions of the country in the latter half of the year; to the recapture of the same territories by a militarily weak Transitional Federal Government (TFG) backed by Ethiopian troops in December 2006 and January 2007.

 

As this magazine went to press, the TFG was consolidating its hold on the country with the help of its allies and parliamentary approval for martial law. The UN was preparing to return staff who had withdrawn from Somalia for security reasons in October.Ethiopia’s Prime Minister, Meles Zenawi, was promising to withdraw his forces within a few weeks and the Intergovernmental Authority for Development (IGAD) and the African Union (AU) were indicating that an African peace support mission could be on the ground in Somalia to fill this security vacuum by late January 2007. The Security Council granted a waiver for the operation with the passage of resolution 1725 on 6 December.

 

Captive throughout, to this political and military rollercoaster, was a civilian population in acute distress. Relief deliveries to populations dislocated were complicated by acute insecurity and remoteness.

 

The political year for Somalia opened on a promising note however with the January signing of the Aden Declaration brokered by Yemen to end differences between President Abdullahi Yusuf and the Speaker of the Transitional Federal Parliament (TFP), Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Adan.With the signing of the Declaration, the TFG and the TFP relocated to Baidoa, 140 miles northwest of Mogadishu in February and held its first session soon after.

 

A street in Mogadishu, Somalia, after 16 years of civil war, 18 January 2007.

(UNPOS Photo by Ian Steele)

 

February also saw a dramatic shift in Somalia’s complicated clan-based balance of power with the emergence of the Alliance for the Restoration of Peace and Counter- Terrorism (ARPCT). It comprised Mogadishu’s warlords with the stated goal of combatting the UIC’s influence in the city.Alliance members claimed the courts were harbouring Al-Qaeda operatives and other foreign combatants and supporting terrorism. ARPCT fighters and gunmen loyal to the courts engaged in fierce battles in the capital. Intense indiscriminate fire in urban areas killed hundreds and displaced thousands. By May, the Courts had routed the warlords and established their authority in central and southern Somalia. A sense of law and order returned to Mogadishu for the first time in 15 years.

 

By contrast, the TFG barely held control of Baidoa, an uncomfortable fact starkly illustrated by the assassination of Abdallah Deerow Isaaq, Somalia’s Minister for Constitutional Affairs as he left a mosque in the city in July, and by an unsuccessful car bombing attempt on the life of President Yusuf outside the Parliament building on 18 September. The previous day, an Italian Catholic nun was assassinated in Mogadishu. In June, a Swedish cameraman and journalist was killed by an unknown assailant while filming a rally in Mogadishu. These incidents and a number of threats forced the UN to curtail and then withdraw all international staff from Somalia in October.

 

As tensions increased, the pace of diplomacy quickened.With the support of the UN,the League of Arab States (LAS) initiated a round of dialogue between the TFG and UIC in Khartoum on 22 June. After attending the talks, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Somalia,François Lonsény Fall, travelled to Baidoa and Mogadishu in July for separate meetings with the President,Prime Minister and Speaker and with the Chairman of the UIC, Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed. Ambassador Fall obtained commitments from both sides to continue the dialogue. A second Khartoum round followed on 2 September.

 

Somali children near Villa Somalia in Mogadishu, 18 January 2007. (UNPOS Photo by Ian Steele)

 

After their surprisingly quick overthrow of the warlords who had ruled Mogadishu by fear for some 15 years, the Courts continued to expand the territory under their control, often without firing a shot. Soon after Khartoum II, the Courts took control of the strategically important port city of Kismayo and the town of Burhakaba just 60 kilometres south of Baidoa. By late October, their forces had flanked Baidoa, cut off its fuel supply and seized control of eight of the country’s 18 administrative districts. Its supporters were also reported to be active in the northern territories of ‘Puntland’ and ‘Somaliland’.

 

Ambassador Fall briefed the Security Council five times during the year and undertook multiple missions into Somalia, within the region and beyond, to encourage continued support for the peace process.

 

The AU and IGAD continued to ask the Security Council for a waiver on the arms embargo to facilitate the deployment of the foreign peace support mission (IGASOM). The Courts vowed to fight any foreign troops opposing them on Somali soil, and they declared jihad against Ethiopian forces which they alleged were already inside the country protecting the TFG.The Government alleged that the Courts were receiving outside military support. Numerous reports and sightings during the year confirmed heavy external military support for both sides. The international community repeatedly expressed fears that Somalia was at risk of becoming host to a proxy war between Ethiopia and Eritrea, with the strong likelihood that the entire region could become embroiled.

 

Meanwhile, the LAS, IGAD and others in the international community, tried unsuccessfully to draw a positive result from a third round of talks in Khartoum in October.The talks were postponed when the parties refused to meet face-to-face.

 

After the postponement of Khartoum III, the Speaker led a delegation of about 20 members of Parliament to Mogadishu in October to encourage the UIC to resume the dialogue in Khartoum. Although he achieved a sevenpoint agreement with the UIC, it was unacceptable to the TFG which maintained his initiative did not have the prior blessing of the President and Prime Minister, and had been pursued without consulting the TFP as a whole.

 

As a stand-off between heavily armed forces of the Transitional Federal Institutions (TFI) and UIC developed outside Baidoa and other strategic locations, the Special Representative of the Secretary- General led an international peace delegation to Baidoa in November. The mission urged the President and the Speaker to bridge their differences, help maintain the unity of the TFI and uphold the Transitional Federal Charter as a framework for peace in Somalia. Ambassador Fall received their assurance on all counts, but the ominous build-up of defensive and offensive forces in and around Baidoa continued.

 

After the rout of warlord militias in Mogadishu, there were frequent reports of foreign forces and military equipment in Somalia in support of both the TFG and the UIC. The military build-up came to a head on 24 December when skirmishes threatened the Government seat in Baidoa and provoked the full force of the TFG and its Ethiopian support. As a result, the Courts militia retreated to Mogadishu where they made only a brief stand before emptying their arsenals into the open arms of the general population and retreating once more to the southern port city of Kismayo,which fell soon after with scarcely a shot fired. UIC remnants retreated once more to the southern tip of Somalia, in a dense forest near Ras Kamboni, where they continued to resist the TFG and Ethiopian forces.

 

The fighting appeared to have subsided at the beginning of 2007, leading many observers to wonder if the Courts militia had simply melted into the general populace with plans and the capacity to mount an insurgency. In January, an African Union assessment mission to Somalia recommended that AU peacekeepers should deploy to Somalia for six months before handing over to a UN peace operation.

 

 

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Prepared by the Peace and Security Section, United Nations Department of Public Information.

© United Nations 2007