Press Conference on Situation in Somalia by Minister for Foreign Affairs

29 May 2009

Press Conference on Situation in Somalia by Minister for Foreign Affairs

29 May 2009
Press Conference
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

PRESS CONFERENCE on situation in somalia by Minister for foreign affairs

Somalia’s Transitional National Government had amassed 5,000 troops to secure the country, and was working to mobilize popular support against a militarized opposition believed to be attempting an overthrow of the newly formed administration, the country’s Foreign Minister said at Headquarters today.

Addressing a press conference on the situation in Somalia, Mohamed Abdullahi Omar said national security forces were currently engaged in a “firefight” with the forces of Al-Shabaab and Hizbul Islam, whose fighters had been sent into battle three weeks ago on instructions from Osama bin Laden.

In response to a question, he said Somalia’s intentions were different from those of the Government of Sri Lanka -- which had also used force to quash armed opposition -- because the Transitional National Government was acting in self-defence to prevent its own overthrow.  It was pursuing that aggressive line of action because its overtures for peaceful negotiations had gone unmet.

The Government was confident of success, Mr. Omar said, adding:  “The capacity and force of Al-Shabaab is, in many respects, well overrated.  We didn’t have an army when we came into power, we didn’t have a budget, resources.  [...] But within three months we have gone to a stage where we can defend the city, where we have 5,000 troops organized.”  The Government also had an ability to engage with and mobilize communities alongside its forces.

Asked by a reporter, he denied that Ethiopian troops had been allowed into Somalia, stressing that their withdrawal was part of the Djibouti Process, brokered by the United Nations.  “We are more than capable of looking after the needs in Somalia as regards Al-Shabaab, and, therefore, there are no grounds [for an Ethiopian presence].  The Ethiopian Government equally stated that they are not, and will not, be in Somalia.”

He stressed that the Government viewed reports on the Internet that Ethiopian trucks had been spotted in the Somali hinterland as false, adding that it was important to discern between Ethiopian troops posted under the African Union banner and those acting in their national capacity.  The Government of Eritrea was not known to make that distinction, despite verification by several third parties -- the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), the African Union and the United Nations -- that Ethiopian soldiers were no longer in the country.

Asked his opinion of possible Security Council sanctions against Eritrea, he said it was an option worth considering in light of that country’s apparent complicity with Al-Shabaab and Hizbul Islam, which had been transported into the Somali capital of Mogadishu from Asmara, capital of Eritrea.  Military aid and medical supplies to the two groups had also been provided through that country, as reported in the media.  “It is the leader, Hassan Dahir Aweys, who has stated it publicly to AFP [Agence France Presse] directly and to Reuters”, he added.

The Minister was also asked to comment on the effects of piracy off the Somali coast, to which he responded by expressing concern over the near-halt in shipping.  “There are no vessels that are ready to bring food to Somalia on a commercial basis.  We are being held hostage by the pirates.”  $50 million in ransom had been paid to pirates last year, raising the possibility of a dual State in Somalia, with one arm run by pirates.  In comparison, donors at the recent Brussels Conference had contributed between $60 million and $70 million to strengthen the country’s security and police forces.  The Government planned to use part of that money to establish a national coast guard, but additional funds might be required for radar, satellite and communications systems.

The Minister explained that the Government intended to hire coast guard personnel from the pirates’ home area so as to provide employment for an economically depressed region and contribute to a feeling of safety in the waters of that seafaring community.

He went on to say that the countries of the Persian Gulf supported Somalia’s efforts, with Saudi Arabia having provided $18 million at the Brussels Conference.  More broadly, countries of the Gulf and surrounding areas provided political and diplomatic support, training for Somalia’s army and police force, and assistance in helping Somalia forge ties with third nations in Europe or the United States.

Mr. Omar explained that the three-and-a-half-month-old Government would devote its time to strengthening Somalia’s public institutions in a process that would culminate with elections at the end of two years.  Already, the Government has established a constitutional commission with help from the United Nations.

Asked whether the Government had the ability to govern the semi-autonomous Puntland region of north-eastern Somalia, he said the Federal Government and the Puntland administration would succeed in working together, if the international community did not throw any “obstacles” in their path.

Commenting on a joint filing on 13 May by which the Governments of Somalia and Kenya laid claim to maritime territory, he confirmed that his country had signed a memorandum of understanding with its neighbour, agreeing that the United Nations would provide expertise in support of their respective claims, and help resolve disputes should they arise.  The importance of the potential territorial extension had been brought to Somalia’s attention by the Government of Norway.

Asked about oversight of United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) funds, part of which had been spent on paying security personnel accused of abuses, the Minister reiterated the Government’s commitment to human rights, stressing that it was currently working to establish a human rights commission and had posted officials at the Ministries of Foreign Affairs, Defence, National Security and Interior, as well as within the police and defence forces.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.