Saturday, September 29, 2007

Somalia: fragile TFG might face Nigeria-like Oil dilemma

Jimma Times staff

Another rebel attack in southern Nigeria led to another death of a foreign oil worker Friday and there are fears that such Oil conflict could become the scene in Somalia very soon as well.

The recent dispute between the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) President Abdullahi Yusuf and Prime Minister Ali Mohamed Gedi are reportedly deeper than just disagreements on the chief justice of the Supreme Court dismissal.

Another point of quarrel has been Oil deals in Somalia, particularly in the semiautonomous Puntland. So far, Prime Minister Gedi has rejected all the regional Oil deals stating that only the federal government has the mandate to endorse such foreign deals.

However, President Yusuf has supported the Puntland Oil deals and has signed with more Oil firms himself, despite the Prime Minister requesting a Petroleum law prior to any deals.

The issue gets more complex as any future compromise between the two leaders will still not solve concerns with the Oil firms, since local villages are still marginalized by the regional officials. Just like the lack of economic benefits for the locals fueling the clashes in Nigeria, the relative peace in Northern Somalia can disappear if the arrival of more Oil firms occur without careful deliberations inside the government, regional officials as well as at the clan & village level.

Some sources claim that more than 5,000 Nigerians have been killed in the violence at the Oil production areas during the last six years alone. Nigeria, a country with 250 ethnic groups and a near 50-50 percent Islam to Christian ratio, has far more the ingredients needed for division, lack of trust and rivalry that lead to violence than Somalia.

But with Somali clans and sub-clans being equally rivals, the Nigeria scenario might occur in Somalia and spread out the already existing humanitarian concern & violence in the south. In order to hide the crisis in Nigeria, international Oil companies have allegedly created a diplomatic network and have been feeding the security forces in Nigeria, including allegedly purchasing helicopters that shot at peaceful protestors in southern Nigeria.

In Somalia, even the most politically powerful Oil firms will not be able to hide the violence and the consequences of irresponsible investments.

Four civilians killed in fresh Somalia violence

MOGADISHU (AFP) — At least four civilians were killed in Somalia's war-wracked capital during a heavy attack against a police station, witnesses said Saturday.

Insurgents armed with rocket launchers and machine guns and fired rounds late Friday at the police station in southern Mogadishu and briefly seized control of it, they said.

"It was the heaviest attack against this police station since the government arrived," said Mohamed Adan Jeri, a local resident.

They also torched two vehicles while shouting "Allahu Akbar," said another resident.
The daily violence in Mogadishu has surged since an Islamist-dominated opposition group formed in Eritrea this month vowed to defeat Ethiopian troops in Somalia since last December.
Government forces, backed by Ethiopian troops, defeated a powerful Islamic movement which, for the second half of 2006, controlled much of the lawless Horn of Africa nation.

Since the movement's ouster in January, remnant fighters have waged daily hit-and-run attacks against government targets.

Somalia has had no central authority since plunging into cycles of bloodletting in 1991 with the ouster of dictator Mohamed Siad Barre.

Several attemps to restore order have failed.

source: AFP

Tensions Rise in Northern Somalia

By MOHAMED OLAD HASSAN – 15 hours ago
MOGADISHU, Somalia (AP) — Tensions are rising in northern Somalia following clashes between forces of rival regional administrations, officials said Friday, and diplomats called on all sides to show restraint.

Somalia's weak federal government based in Mogadishu, in the south, has been hard-pressed to assert control in the south and was unlikely to have any influence in the confrontation between the autonomous Puntland region and the breakaway republic of Somaliland.

Hassan Dahir Mohamud, Puntland's vice president, told The Associated Press that one soldier was killed and three others wounded. Somaliland officials had earlier in the week claimed on local radio stations that their troops killed three Puntland soldiers during a gunbattle at a village in a region called Sool.

Both Somaliland, which broke away from Somalia in 1991 but has not been internationally recognized, and Puntland, an autonomous region in northeastern Somalia, claim Sool. They have clashed over the region at least four times in the past.

"We urge the leadership of both Puntland and Somaliland to exercise maximum restraint and to give their full support to peaceful approaches for resolution," said a group of donors to Somalia, the Committee of the Coordination of International Support to Somalia.

"There is a growing buildup of arms and troops inside the region, with deliveries coming by land on a daily basis," said Haji Mohamed Jama, a resident of Las Anod, the capital of Sool.
Mohamud said his administration dispatched more troops to the contested region to stop forces from Somaliland crossing into Puntland.

Mohamud said that Puntland had also arrested seven men carrying explosives in vehicles with Somaliland registration plates in Buhodle, a town bordering Puntland and Ethiopia.

"We handed the men to Ethiopian security forces for further investigation," said Mohamud.
Somalia has had no effective central government since warlords ousted dictator Mohamed Said Barre in 1991 and then turned on each other, turning the country of 7 million people into a patchwork of battling clan fiefdoms. Somaliland and Puntland have managed to avoid much of the clan-based fighting that has plagued central and southern Somalia.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Four Somali soldiers killed in Mogadishu attack - AFP

MOGADISHU (AFP) — Four Somali soldiers were killed and several wounded when an army truck was ambushed in the capital, where the government is battling a deadly insurgency, an official and witnesses said Friday.

The soldiers were heading to reinforce their colleagues in Mogadishu's Suqaholaha district overnight when they came under rocket-propelled grenade attack, they said.

"Four of our men were killed and several others wounded when insurgents ambushed them near the Arafat area. I believe the death toll might rise," an army commander told AFP.
Witnesses confirmed the ambush, the latest in a string of attacks in Mogadishu.

"The vehicle was hit by an RPG shell and I saw it burning down as the forces left the scene at night. It was destroyed about 100 metres (yards) from my house," said Muse Farah.
Resident Abdisalam Adan Mohamed said dozens of heavily armed insurgents poured into the area after government forces left.

Amid escalating violence, residents continued fleeing the areas that have been convulsed by fighting between the government, Islamist insurgents and some clan fighters mainly in northern Mogadishu.

"Who can endure a situation where people are killed and harassed everyday?" said Mumino Ali Bashir, a mother of three who was fleeing the Huriwa neighbourhood on Friday.

"I decided to move away from this neighborhood until stability comes back," she added.

"I think this time only cats will be left in the houses because most of the residents fled already and the rest are now leaving," said Haji Abdallah Sugurow, another resident.

Ethiopian troops came to the rescue of Somalia's embattled transitional government last year and ousted an Islamist militia that briefly controlled large parts of the country.

Since then, an Islamist-led insurgency has waged daily guerrilla-style attacks in Mogadishu against the government as well as the Ethiopian and the African Union troops protecting it.
Last week, groups opposed to the Somali government vowed to intensify fighting with the aim of driving out Ethiopian forces, whose presence in Somalia has renewed tensions between the two nations.

The international community and the government have stressed that Ethiopian troops should not leave until an 8,000-strong African Union peacekeeping force is fully deployed.
Yet so far only 1,600 Ugandan troops have arrived in Somalia while other contingents -- including more troops from Uganda and Burundian forces -- have been delayed by a lack of funds or logistical obstacles.

The lack of stability and central authority has also allowed clan-based feuds to erupt and crime to spread in the seaside capital, home to about a million people.

Somalia has lacked an effective government since dictator Mohamed Siad Barre was ousted in 1991, touching off a deadly clan-based power struggle that has defied numerous efforts to restore stability.

Violence has raged despite a recent government-sponsored reconciliation conference, which was boycotted by Islamist-led Somali opposition groups.

Source: AFP

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Ahmadinejad defiant in UN address

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told world leaders last night his country will defy any further UN Security Council resolutions imposed by "arrogant powers" seeking to curb its nuclear programme.

He said it is "high time for these powers to return from the path of arrogance and obedience to Satan to the path of faith in God".

Undeterred, France and Germany increased pressure on the Islamic republic at the UN General Assembly's annual ministerial meeting in New York yesterday, saying they would not accept a nuclear-armed Iran.

"Let's not fool ourselves. If Iran were to acquire the nuclear bomb, the consequences would be disastrous," German Chancellor Angela Merkel told the session.

Mr Ahmadinejad told leaders at the meeting yesterday that the world powers on the Security Council had politicised Tehran's nuclear programme, making military threats and imposing sanctions against the country as they demanded it suspend uranium enrichment.

He announced to the assembly that the nuclear issue was now "closed" as a political issue and Iran would pursue the monitoring of its nuclear programme "through its appropriate legal path", the International Atomic Energy Agency, which is the UN's nuclear watchdog.

IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei and Iranian officials agreed in July that Tehran would answer questions from agency experts by December on more than two decades of nuclear activity - most of it secret until revealed more than four years ago.

IAEA technical officials returned to Tehran this week to start probing outstanding questions, some with possible weapons applications.

The US delegation walked out of the General Assembly chamber when Mr Ahmadinejad went to the podium, leaving only a low-ranking note-taker to listen to his speech, which also indirectly accused the US and Israel of human rights violations.

Gonzalo Gallegos, a US State Department spokesman, said the Americans wanted "to send him a powerful message".

Iran insists that its nuclear programme is purely peaceful and aimed solely at producing nuclear energy. But the United States and its European allies believe the programme is a cover for Iran's real ambition - producing nuclear weapons.

Iran has defied two Security Council resolutions demanding it suspend uranium enrichment and imposing sanctions against key figures and organisations involved in the nuclear programme.
Mr Ahmadinejad made clear in his speech Iran does not intend to comply with them now. Iran has decided "to pursue the issue through its appropriate legal path ... and to disregard unlawful and political impositions by the arrogant powers," he said. "Some powers sacrifice all human values including honesty, purity and trust for the advancement of their goals," he said.
"They lie openly, level baseless charges against others, act contrary to legal norms and damage the climate of trust and friendship."

At a news conference later, he said Iran's efforts will still be geared towards preventing sanctions, but he maintained that the Security Council sanctions against his country were "completely illegal".

Before Mr Ahmadinejad spoke, French President Nicolas Sarkozy warned the assembly that allowing Iran to arm itself with nuclear weapons would be an "unacceptable risk to stability in the region and in the world".

US President George Bush scarcely mentioned the Iranian nuclear standoff in his speech, instead harshly criticising Burma's military dictatorship, which he accused of imposing "a 19-year reign of fear" that denies basic freedoms of speech, assembly and worship in the country.
Mr Ahmadinejad remained in the General Assembly for Bush's speech, but a UN diplomat in the chamber said he pulled out his translation earpiece before Mr Bush started to talk.


Tuesday, September 25, 2007

UN: Cubans Walk Out During Bush U.N. Speech

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Cuba's foreign minister walked out of the U.N. General Assembly on Tuesday in protest of President Bush's speech in which he said the "long rule of a cruel dictator is nearing its end" on the communist island.

The Cuban delegation issued a statement saying the decision by Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque to leave was a "sign of profound rejection of the arrogant and mediocre statement by President Bush."
In his speech, Bush looked ahead to a Cuba no longer ruled by Fidel Castro, the ailing 81-year-old leader who has not appeared in public in more than a year, since ceding power to a provisional government headed by his brother Raul.

"In Cuba, the long rule of a cruel dictator is nearing its end," Bush said. "The Cuban people are ready for their freedom. And as that nation enters a period of transition, the United Nations must insist on free speech, free assembly and, ultimately, free and competitive elections."

Cuba's U.N. Mission said the American president had no moral standing to criticize anyone.
It accused Bush of responsibility "for the murder of over 600,000 civilians in Iraq" and for "the torture of prisoners" at the U.S. Navy base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where more than 300 men are being held on suspicion of terrorism or links to al-Qaida or the Taliban.

"He is a criminal and has no moral authority or credibility to judge any other country," the mission's statement said. "Cuba condemns and rejects every letter of his infamous tirade."

Source: UN

UN: Nicaraguan Leader Rails at U.S. Hegemony

By ALEXANDRA OLSON Associated Press Writer
25 September 2007

UNITED NATIONS — Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega accused the U.S. of imposing a worldwide dictatorship and defended the right of Iran and North Korea to pursue nuclear technology in a speech Tuesday before the U.N. General Assembly meeting.
Ortega also angrily denounced President Bush for criticizing Cuban leader Fidel Castro during his speech earlier in the day.

Ortega, who took office in January, said little had changed since he last addressed the world body as the Marxist leader of Nicaragua's Sandinista-run government two decades ago.
"The presidents of the U.S. change. And they may come to office with the greatest of intentions and they may feel that they are doing good for humanity, but they fail to understand that they are no more than instruments of one more empire in a long list of empires that have been imposed on our planet," Ortega said, waving his arms.

Ortega had started off addressing the central theme of this year's General Assembly meeting — climate change — but he quickly launched into a tirade against global capitalism, meandering from his notes and speaking well beyond his allotted 15 minutes.

The world is under "the most impressive, huge dictatorship that has existed — the empire of North America," he said. An "imperialist minority is imposing global capitalism to impoverish us all and impose apartheid against Latin American immigrants and against African immigrants."
He said the United States, as the only country to have used nuclear bombs in a war, was in no position to question the right of Iran and North Korea to pursue nuclear technology for peaceful purposes.

"And even if they want nuclear power for purposes that are not peaceful, with what right does (the U.S.) question it?" Ortega added.

During his election campaign, Ortega pledged to maintain ties with Washington but he also has reached out to Iran and Venezuela, which are courting allies in their fight against U.S. influence. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad visited Nicaragua in January, and Ortega went to Iran in June.

Earlier Tuesday, leftist Bolivian President Evo Morales defended his own nation's ties with Iran, saying he is eager for Iranian help in developing the natural gas industry. Ahmadinejad plans to travel to Bolivia on Wednesday to sign cooperation accords with Morales, then travel to Venezuela to meet with leftist President Hugo Chavez.

Ortega's speech recalled last year's U.N. speech by Chavez, who caused a storm by calling Bush the "devil." Chavez is not attending this year.

Ortega did not directly insult Bush. But he came to the ailing Castro's defense moments after Bush declared that "in Cuba, the long rule of a cruel dictatorship is nearing its end." Cuban Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque walked out of the assembly in protest.

"And we heard from the president of the United States this morning a total lack of respect when he spoke of Cuba," Ortega said. "Fidel Castro has shown great solidarity with humanity."

Source: UN

US rendition on trial in Africa

The US' war on terror practices come under fire in East Africa as a Kenyan court and rights groups set out to unmask a US-Kenya-Ethiopia-Somalia rendition circle.

By Daniel Auma in Nairobi for ISN Security Watch (25/09/07)

The hidden faces of Kenya's war on terror may soon be unmasked, as a High Court Judge and a number of Muslim rights groups and lawyers seek to crack the veil of secrecy behind a series of mysterious flights to Ethiopia and the US suspected of carrying out an illegal rendition campaign.

A Kenyan judge has set the stage for a bruising encounter with the country's anti-terrorism chief on 8 October when Commandant of the Kenya Anti-Terrorism Police Unit Nicholas Kamwende will be quizzed on what he knows about the mysterious airlifts.

The story behind a series of alleged secret flights to lawless Somalia, then to Ethiopia, and finally to US detention facilities, began on 7 January, when a war against suspected Islamic fundamentalists started in Somalia.

At that time, Ethiopian troops were assuming control over the Somali capital Mogadishu after ousting Islamic fundamentalists against a backdrop of US air strikes in south-west Somalia. Ethiopian ground troops were taking part in one of the biggest military operations to be carried out by Washington in East Africa since its humiliating defeat in 1991.

The Ethiopian operation, which enjoyed the support of US intelligence, showed that defeated Somali Islamist militias were fleeing to the port of Kismayo, toward Somali's southern tip, which borders Kenya.

Kenyan authorities then made a series of arrests as part of a US-backed, four-nation (Kenya, US, Transitional Government of Somalia and US) military campaign in January against Somalia's Islamist militias, which Bush administration officials have linked to al-Qaida.

At least 140 prisoners - including men and women of 17 nationalities and children as young as seven months - were held in Kenya for several weeks before most of them were transferred covertly to Somalia and Ethiopia, where they were held incommunicado.

According to an Amnesty International report, at least 140 people were arrested by the Kenyan authorities while fleeing from Somalia. Among those arrested, 85 were "unlawfully" transferred to Ethiopia and Somalia, 27 were released from custody in Kenya and transferred to their country, one of them an Omani prince. Four were deported to the US.

Ethiopian authorities have released 15 people since March, while 27 Kenyans are still missing. Four of those sent to Somalia were British citizens and have been deported.

Among the thousands of people fleeing the fighting were two women, Halima Badrudine Hussein and her three children and Sophia Abdul Nasir. As the convoy of fleeing women neared Kiunga, near the border with Kenya, US intelligence was hot on their trail.

Bashir Ahmed Maktal, a Kenyan who had crossed over to the Somali side of the border before the crisis peaked, was also returning home to Kenya at the Liboi entry point.

Amir Mohammed Meshal, an Egyptian-born US citizen, was apprehended at the same crossing by Kenyan authorities and swiftly flown to Ethiopia, where he is facing a military tribunal.

The women and the two men are just a few of the known faces of at least 140 people who allegedly have been brutally interrogated in Kenya, secretly airlifted to Ethiopia and left to languish in Ethiopian cells, from where they have only managed to contact Muslim rights groups occasionally.

But a determined group of Kenyan Muslim rights activists who have vowed to test the east African nation's legal system and its war on terror have launched a petition against these renditions.

'Proxy hostages'

The first battle opens in the private chambers of Justice John Dulu, who has warned that he would issue an arrest warrant for the chief of the anti-terror police if he failed to respect the 8 October summons to explain the rendition flights.

"We are ready to test the legal system in the anti-terrorism war," Al-Almin Kimathi of the Kenya Muslim Forum, told ISN Security Watch.

Human rights organizations have termed the arrest of Halima Badrudine and her children and Sophia Abdul Nasir a case of "proxy hostages" in the war against terror. Halima is the wife of Fazul Abdullah, a Comorian suspected of playing a prominent role in the planning and execution of the US Embassy bombing in Nairobi in 1998, which killed 245 people, among them 12 Americans.

Sophia Nasir is the wife of Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan, a Kenyan believed to have worked on the side of Fazul to plan and execute the 1998 bombing.

Both suspects are believed to have been hiding in Somalia and are thought to have been part of active al-Qaida training cells in Somalia working for the downfall of the Somali transitional government.

The women were arrested along with 13 others said to be relatives of the defeated Islamic militants in Mogadishu and elsewhere Somalia.

Mektal, born in the Ogaden area of Ethiopia in 1969, was a Canadian emigrant who returned to Kenya in 2004 after working in Toronto as a computer programmer. He has had Canadian citizenship since 1993.

Amnesty International says Ethiopian authorities have on several occasions tried to force Mektal to confess to being a member of the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF), but he has refused. He has been held by Ethiopian forces since he was airlifted to Addis on 20 January.
The rights groups say the war on terror is targeting Ethiopian Ogadeni and Oromo ethnic groups with ancestry in both Kenya and Ethiopia, while the Kenyans are targeting anybody with associations to suspected terrorists.

"This is a crackdown against anyone who is thought to have any association with a suspect of terrorism. This defies the rights of the individuals," Kimathi said.

Rights activists say the program is being driven by the US, which has built a close relationship with Kenya and Ethiopia in the war on terror.

The Ethiopian government has acknowledged detaining 40 out of at least 80 people suspected to have been secretly flown from Kenya to Ethiopia through Somalia. The human rights workers say 117 people were initially transferred to Ethiopia, and another 50 to 70 individuals were identified within the Kenyan detention facilities before they disappeared. Kimathi said independent rights workers have verified the figures.

"We are talking about people we saw and had the flight manifest brought to the high court," Kimathi said.

The Kenya Human Rights Network and the Muslims Forum last week urged the court to look into the issue of disappearing Kenyans.

Muslim rights groups organized a demonstration in Nairobi last week, calling for the closure of the Ethiopian embassy in Nairobi and the rejection of an attempt by the US to set up an African Military Command Center in Botswana.

They hailed the ruling of the High Court as a milestone, saying it was the first time the anti-terrorism police would be called on to explain the reasons behind illegal detentions and extraordinary renditions to foreign countries.

"The law is very clear, nobody, whether terrorists or not, should be sent to theaters where there is conflict. There are legal mechanisms to bring perpetrators of various crimes to account," KNCHR chairman Maina Kiai told ISN Security Watch.

Earlier in May, Kimathi said he had received unconfirmed information that three of the deportees had died in Ethiopian custody. He expressed deep concern about a Tunisian woman who is reportedly eight months pregnant. Among those arrested were citizens of the US, Ethiopian, Somalia, Kenya, Tunisia, Yemen and Saudi Arabia.

The fate of Amir Meshal remains unknown since he was transferred to Ethiopia. He has been questioned by US anti-terror agents who said he was not a terrorism suspect.

By any means necessary

The Bush administration has come under fire for the practice of so-called extraordinary renditions - the transfer of detainees without court proceedings to foreign countries where they can be interrogated, often in secret, and sometimes subjected to torture.

The new allegations mark the first time that such renditions have been suspected in East Africa, where US-friendly regimes often are accused of treating prisoners brutally.

But the campaign has not netted any al-Qaida figures.

"There is clearly some sort of cooperation that if you fight together, you can deal with prisoners together," Hassan Omar, a member of the state-funded Kenya National Commission on Human Rights who has followed the issue closely told ISN Security Watch.

"There has been massive foreign interference on the issue of terrorism. Quite a number of foreign agencies' hands are tainted," he said.

Omar said returning the detainees to Somalia was a fundamental human-rights violation. "We are very skeptical of those being deported back to Somalia. The country does not have peace or stability. All of the prisoners we spoke to told us they were fleeing the hostilities."

The price of being a US ally

Kenyan Muslims accuse their government of being swayed by the US, which says Somalia's Islamist movement is hosting al-Qaida suspects it blames for the deadly bombings of its embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998.

Speaking in Nairobi last Wednesday, US Ambassador to Kenya and Somalia Michael Ranneberger defended the Kenyan deportations, which he said were based on security fears.
"The Kenyans have carried out security operations based on their own security interests but also based on the request of the [Somali] government to interdict and apprehend terrorists.

This has meant specifically the apprehension of a number of terrorists and extremists who have tried to cross the Kenyan border," Rannebrger told journalists in Nairobi.

Barely a year after it sent fighter jets to bombard parts of Somalia and backed an Ethiopian assault on the capital and elsewhere, Washington said it was pleased with progress in Somalia.
"We would strongly praise the degree of Kenyan cooperation on security issues, as well as this is very important on the overall political process in Somalia," Washington said in a statement.

Kenyan government officials were not immediately available to comment on the threat of more protests. But speaking on condition of anonymity to ISN Security Watch, a senior government official dismissed the allegations made by those who were deported as baseless.

"We are suspicious of allegations made by people deported from this country as undesirable elements," the official said, denying that the FBI had access to the prisoners in Kenya.
"But if they feel any law has been broken they are welcome to file an official complaint."
But the US envoy in Nairobi said Washington was committed to working with regional partners to oppose terrorism, and noted that "active and ongoing" US counter-terrorism efforts in the region were bearing fruit.

Rannerger said Washington's successful collaboration between governments of Kenya, Somalia and Ethiopia had "severely disrupted" terrorist activities in anarchic Somalia since operations began there early this year.

"The action that we have taken have severely disrupted the al-Qaida East Africa network [...]," Ranneberger told journalists in Nairobi.

"Terrorists can no longer feel safe thinking Somalia is a safe haven. Our actions have severely disrupted al-Qaida's East Africa network and those trying to regroup in the south [...] the TFG is working on that and I don't think they would be allowed to do so," Ranneberger said.

A basic human rights question

In the meantime, Kenyan Muslim leaders are up in arms about what they view as gross mistreatment of their followers by security agents in recent times.

According to Professor Abdulghafur El-Busaidy, the Chairman of the Supreme Council of Kenya Muslims, the renditions should not only be seen as an issue affecting Muslims, but as a blatant abuse of Kenyan citizens' basic human rights.

"What has been going on for the last few months is wrong, whether those shipped out of Kenya are Kenyan citizens or not," he told ISN Security Watch by telephone. "It is the duty of the country's courts to determine who is guilty of an offence like terrorism, and definitely not the duty of the Immigration Department or the police."

Lawyers and human rights groups argue that the covert transfers to Ethiopia violate international law.

"Each of these governments has played a shameful role in mistreating people fleeing a war zone," said a report released by Human Rights Watch recently.

"Kenya has secretly expelled people, the Ethiopians have caused dozens to disappear and US security agents have routinely interrogated people held incommunicado."

Source: ISN -

Ahmadinejad, at Columbia, Parries and Puzzles

He said that there were no homosexuals in Iran — not one — and that the Nazi slaughter of six million Jews should not be treated as fact, but theory, and therefore open to debate and more research.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the president of Iran, aired those and other bewildering thoughts in a two-hour verbal contest at Columbia University yesterday, providing some ammunition to people who said there was no point in inviting him to speak. Yet his appearance also offered evidence of why he is widely admired in the developing world for his defiance toward Western, especially American, power.

In repeated clashes with his hosts, Mr. Ahmadinejad accused the United States of supporting terrorist groups, and characterized as hypocritical American and European efforts to rein in Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

“If you have created the fifth generation of atomic bombs and are testing them already, who are you to question other people who just want nuclear power,” Mr. Ahmadinejad said, adding, pointedly: “I think the politicians who are after atomic bombs, politically, they’re backwards. Retarded.”

His speech at Columbia, in advance of his planned speech today at the United Nations, produced a day of intense protests and counterprotests around the campus. It was a performance at once both defiant — he said Iran could not recognize Israel “because it is based on ethnic discrimination, occupation and usurpation and it consistently threatens its neighbors” — and conciliatory — he said he wanted to visit ground zero to “show my respect” for what he called “a tragic event.”

And he said that even if the Holocaust did occur, the Palestinians should not pay the price for it.
He began the afternoon on the defensive.

Lee C. Bollinger, the president of Columbia, under intense attack for the invitation — one protester outside the campus auditorium where Mr. Ahmadinejad spoke passed out fliers that said, “Bollinger, too bad bin Laden is not available” — opened the event with a 10-minute verbal assault.

He said, “Mr. President, you exhibit all the signs of a petty and cruel dictator,” adding, “You are either brazenly provocative or astonishingly uneducated.”
The Iranian president, who was seated 10 feet away from him on the stage, wore a frozen smile. The anti-Ahmadinejad portion of the audience, which looked to be about 70 percent of it, cheered and chortled.

Mr. Bollinger praised himself and Columbia for showing they believed in freedom of speech by inviting the Iranian president, then continued his attack. He said it was “well documented” that Iran was a state sponsor of terrorism, accused Iran of fighting a proxy war against the United States in Iraq and questioned why Iran has refused “to adhere to the international standards” of disclosure for its nuclear program.

“I doubt,” Mr. Bollinger concluded, “that you will have the intellectual courage to answer these questions.”

Mr. Ahmadinejad did not directly answer the questions, but he did address them. Before doing so though, he said pointedly:

“In Iran, tradition requires when you invite a person to be a speaker, we actually respect our students enough to allow them to make their own judgment, and don’t think it’s necessary before the speech is even given to come in with a series of complaints to provide vaccination to the students and faculty.”

He added, to some cheers, “Nonetheless, I shall not begin by being affected by this unfriendly treatment.”

Mr. Ahmadinejad’s much-talked-about appearance at Columbia was the opening act of a week of dramatic theater here as the United Nations General Assembly opened its annual session. He and his nemesis, President Bush, are scheduled to address the General Assembly today.

Mr. Bush, asked about Columbia’s decision to invite Mr. Ahmadinejad, told Fox News that it was “O.K. with me,” but added that he might not have extended the invitation himself.

“When you really think about it,” Mr. Bush said, “he’s the head of a state sponsor of terror, he’s — and yet an institution in our country gives him a chance to express his point of view, which really speaks to the freedoms of the country. I’m not sure I’d have offered the same invitation.”
Mr. Ahmadinejad is allowed under international law and diplomatic protocols to travel freely within a 25-mile radius of Columbus Circle. But the police said last week that he would not be allowed near ground zero.

Inside the auditorium, the Columbia students laughed appreciatively when Mr. Ahmadinejad pushed back against the attempts by Dean John H. Coatsworth, the event’s moderator, to get him to stop rambling and answer questions directly.

“Do you or your government seek the destruction of the state of Israel?” Mr. Coatsworth asked.
“We love all people,” Mr. Ahmadinejad dodged. “We are friends of the Jews. There are many Jews living peacefully in Iran.” He went on to say that the Palestinian “nation” should be allowed a referendum to decide its own future.

Mr. Coatsworth persisted: “I think you can answer that question with a simple yes or no.”
Mr. Ahmadinejad was having none of it. “You ask the question and then you want the answer the way you want to hear it,” he shot back. “I ask you, is the Palestinian issue not a question of international importance? Please tell me yes or no.”

For that, he got a round of applause from the students, who had lined up four hours before the speech to get into the auditorium. Online tickets evaporated in 90 minutes last week, they said, almost on par with a Bruce Springsteen concert.

“I’m proud of my university today,” said Stina Reksten, a 28-year-old graduate student from Norway. “I don’t want to confuse the very dire human rights situation in Iran with the issue here, which is freedom of speech. This is about academic freedom.”

It remains unclear whether Columbia’s leaders were able to mollify critics through their critical treatment of Mr. Ahmadinejad. But they made some headway: the American Israel Public Affairs Committee sent out an e-mail message shortly after the speech with the subject line,

“A Must Read: Columbia University President’s Intro of Iran’s Ahmadinejad today.”

Inside was a transcript of Mr. Bollinger’s introduction.

Steven Lee Myers contributed reporting.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Six killed as Somali parliament tackles government row

MOGADISHU (AFP) — Six people, including four soldiers, were killed in the Somali capital as parliament moved to tackle a political row that has split the government, officials and witnesses said Monday.
Fighting erupted late Sunday when around 50 insurgents attacked government forces in northern Mogadishu with heavy weaponry, sparking deadly artillery duels, according to the witnesses.

New fighting was reported in southern Mogadishu late Monday, but casualties could not be immediately established.

"We have lost three government soldiers including Nur Warsame Hirey, the commander of the unit that was attacked last night near Barakat Cemetery," a military commander told AFP on condition of anonymity.

The body of a fourth soldier was found near the scene of the fighting early Monday, said witness Husein Mohamed Osman.

Gunmen also killed two local government officials in northern Mogadishu, the latest in a series of attacks that have convulsed the seaside capital, said Abdukadir Nur Barre, a local grocer who witnessed the incident.

As the violence raged, parliament speaker Aden Mohamed Nur said President Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed and Prime Minister Ali Mohamed Gedi would attend a Tuesday parliamentary session to try to end a damaging dispute.

The row was touched off Friday when Somali attorney general Abdullahi Dahir -- close to the president -- was sacked by the cabinet for ordering the arrest of the supreme court's chairman and one of its judges.

Gedi's government deemed the arrests illegal but Dahir -- who has refused to leave his post -- said supreme court chief Yusuf Ali Haru and judge Mohamed Nur should face corruption charges. An ugly standoff ensued.

"They have agreed to abide by our (parliament) decision and the disagreement will be resolved accordingly," Nur said of the clan-based assembly is based in the southern town of Baidoa.
The parliament spokesman also downplayed the row in a government already weakened by infighting, resignations and lacking popular support.

"There is no deep row between the top government officials, but only a slight disagreement," Nur told reporters.

Also Monday, the newly formed Alliance for the Re-Liberation of Somalia (ARS) named former powerful warlord Sheikh Yusuf Mohammed Siad to lead the war against Ethiopian forces deployed in Mogadishu.

Siad, ex-defence chief in the now-defunct Islamic Courts Union, "is in Mogadishu now with the fighting forces leading the resistance," said Zakariya Mahamud Abdi, a top official in the umbrella group of all forces against the government.

Siad was formerly a warlord in charge of Somalia's Middle Shabelle region.

Since the Islamist movement was defeated in January and its leaders routed out of the country, its remnants have carried out near-daily guerrilla attacks mainly in the capital, mainly targeting government officials and Ethiopian troops.

The powerful Ethiopia's army came to the rescue of the government last year and in April wrested final control of Mogadishu from an Islamist militia that briefly controlled large parts of the country.

Somalia has lacked an effective government since the 1991 ouster of dictator Mohamed Siad Barre touched off a deadly clan-based power struggle that has defied numerous efforts to restore stability.

Violence has raged despite a recent government-sponsored reconciliation conference, which was boycotted by Islamist-led Somali opposition groups, and ended with nothing to speak of.

Somalia-Ethiopia: Somaliland clashes complicate peace prospect

According to sources from the war-torn country of Somalia, the clashes between Puntland and Somaliland have increased to a higher level. Recent conflicts brought accusations from both sides regarding who started the conflict. Security forces from the opposing regions exchanged fire in the disputed Sool region as various regional players took sides.

Tensions remain after battles near Las Anod, the capital of Sool region. Most importantly, these events have displayed the complicated clan politics as well as the special case of Somaliland which is seeking independence from the rest of Somalia. After Puntland blamed Somaliland for helping the supporters of the Islamic Courts Union (ICU), Somaliland accused Puntland of attempting to use terrorism to gain the support of Ethiopia and Mogadishu governments.

More accusations have mounted as Somaliland claimed that the Puntland militias are assisting the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) against Ethiopia. According to officials from Somaliland, Puntland is secretly arming and allowing shipments of weapons to be transferred towards the separatist ONLF rebels. Somaliland broke away from the rest of Somalia in 1991, and has been seeking recognition by the United Nations.

Most of the accusations going back and forth are likely political maneuvers rather than concrete facts on the ground.

Some analysts say Somaliland does not want stability in Mogadishu but without a proper referendum it is highly improbable that Somaliland can gain recognition. Yet with the transitional government in Mogadishu being dominated by Puntland supporters, Somaliland does not expect neutrality and negotiation to come from Mogadishu TFG officials.

Source: Jimma Times

Sunday, September 23, 2007

AFP - Three killed as heavy fighting rocks Somali capital

MOGADISHU (AFP) — Islamist-led insurgents clashed Sunday with Somali government troops in northern Mogadishu in some of the heaviest fighting in weeks, witnesses said, as three people died in attacks in the capital.

The upsurge in violence comes three days after Somalia's new Islamist-dominated opposition alliance said its forces had launched a bid to oust Ethiopian troops from battle-scarred Horn of Africa nation.

Rival sides pounded each other with machineguns, rocket propelled grenades and anti-aircraft rockets around Mogadishu University and Barakat Cemetery, witnesses added.

"I saw around 50 heavily-armed insurgents attacking the government forces near the university and then fighting started," said Mohamed Ganey, who lives in the city's north.

"I then saw smoke rising to the sky from the battlefield. They were exchanging machinegun fire, RPGs, anti-aircraft rockets for quite sometimes," said Ganey, adding the insurgents "were chanting Allahu Akbar (God is Great)."

Another resident Abdullahi Hassan Ali said the artillery duel was "heaviest" in recent weeks in Mogadishu, home to about one million.

"It is face-to-face fighting and not like ambushes in the past," Ali told AFP.

On Thursday, the Alliance for the Re-Liberation of Somalia (ARS) vowed to drive out Ethiopian forces deployed in Somalia to bolster the feeble government after.

The ARS -- a coalition of all anti-government forces -- was formed on September 12 to liberate Somalia.

Earlier Sunday, three people, including a policeman, were killed in the seaside capital, the latest victims from a string of attacks that have convulsed the city.

Gunmen shot an unidentified man in Mogadishu's violence-wracked Bakara market area, witness Abdullahi Mohamed told AFP.

"The assailants managed to escape after killing the man," he said.

Witnesses said a teenager killed a civilian in the city's Sanaa neighbourhood. A policeman was gunned down in the Suq Baad neighbourhood by unidentified gunmen, according to locals.
The interim government claims the insurgency is waning but lawless pockets still remain in Mogadishu.

Ethiopia's army came to the rescue of the government last year and in April wrested final control of Mogadishu from an Islamist militia that briefly controlled large parts of the country.
The remnants of the fundamentalist Islamic group and its tribal allies have since reverted to street guerrilla tactics, carrying out daily hit-and-run attacks against government targets in the capital.

The Ethiopian and Somali forces as well as at least 1,500 African Union peacekeepers from Uganda have been unable to stem the insurgency that threatens to paralyse the government.
At least 80 people have been killed in the flashpoint area of Bakara market alone since June, most of them civilians, according to an AFP count based on reports by hospital sources.
Somalia has lacked an effective government since the 1991 ouster of dictator Mohamed Siad Barre touched off a deadly clan-based power struggle that has defied numerous efforts to restore stability.

Mogadishu violence has raged despite a recent government-sponsored reconciliation conference, which was boycotted by Islamist-led Somali opposition groups, and ended with nothing to speak of.

Source: AFP

Daily violence bleeds life out of Somalia's largest market

MOGADISHU (AFP) — As the holy month of Ramadan builds up to the Eid al-Fitr feast, market alleyways in Muslim countries usually teem with activity and shoppers stocking up on dates and other products.

In Mogadishu, Bakara market has become a by-word for violence and danger. The sprawling neighbourhood and its narrow mazy streets have seen the worst of Somalia's seemingly never-ending strife in recent months.

"It's Ramadan and people are fasting, they should not have to endure such trouble and violence," says Hadia Sheikh Dahir, as she shuffles briskly out of the market area after buying dates for the "iftar" meal which breaks the dawn-to-dusk fast.

"It's the only place we can go for shopping and now it is dying from the violence and inflation," she explains, pulling two of her three children by the sleeve.

Muslim charities used to hand out dates and other Ramadan products in Bakara. This year, they are nowhere to be seen.

Ethiopia's mighty army came to the rescue of Somalia's embattled transitional government and earlier this year defeated an Islamist militia that briefly controlled large parts of the country.
Since then, the Islamist-led insurgency has concentrated its efforts on Mogadishu and reverted to guerrilla street tactics, launching daily grenade, roadside bomb and gunfire attacks against government targets.

According to an AFP count based on reports by hospital sources, at least 80 people have been killed in Bakara market alone since June, most of them civilians.

With its windy streets, shaded by coloured parasols and connected by low, flat rooftops, the market area in southern Mogadishu offers ideal cover to insurgents and endless possibilities to lose police patrols.

"I never go to Bakara without checking that it's safe," said Abdurazzak Mohammed Ali, who sells sugar and flour in a wheelbarrow.

"You always have to be ready for an ambush, you can just die or get wounded at any time. There are explosions and gunfire almost every day in the market area and it has become a very dangerous place," he explains.

Bakara used to be a residential district and hosts a few Italian-era coral stone houses that were the trademark of the once thriving seaside capital.

Mogadishu is now a city where a million Somalis try to survive amid an eery decor of half-crumbling buildings pockmarked by years of chaos and shortages.

The area was initially a haven for traders fleeing Mogadishu's flashpoints after the 1991 ouster of former dictator Mohamed Siad Barre touched off a bloody power struggle.
Bakara has since grown into Somalia's premier commercial hub, a place where merchants from all over the country buy and sell anything from food and clothes to electronics, perfume and currencies.

It had also turned into a regional arms free market, with a dedicated section dubbed "Irtogte" -- which means sky shooters in Somali -- where dozens of assault rifles, rocket launchers and mortars could be traded daily.

A crackdown by Ethiopian-backed government security forces has since sent arms dealers scurrying underground but the continued violence could well force the market's other businesses to shut down.

"Many merchants have fled the area and removed their belongings, shifting to other places; everybody is emptying the market since the hell started flaming," says Mohamed Husein Dahir, a Bakara grocer.

"I had a pharmacy in Bakara market but I had to close it down completely after a colleague was shot dead in front of my shop... I never want to witness people being killed again," says Mohamed Mowlid.

The 28-year-old chemist recently relocated in the northern Mogadishu neighbourhood of Suq Baad.

Local residents and shoppers are often torn between resentment towards the insurgency's reckless tactics and the security's ham-fisted response.

"The government forces are destabilising the market instead of maintaining order, because they open fire indiscriminately and kill people when they are targeted by the insurgents," Maryan Adan Mohamed, a 36-year-old woman buying bread for four orphans she took under her care.
The capital and the country are under nobody's full control, with rival Somali camps as divided as ever.

The internationally-backed government has achieved little in three years of existence and appears reluctant to talk to its Islamist foes.

For its part, the opposition has consolidated around a platform whose main priority is to remove Ethiopian troops from Somalia by any possible means.

"I have never seen such a confusing situation, even when the warlords ruled Mogadishu there wasn't that much bloodshed in Bakara," says Adan Ali Ahmed, a 42-year-old resident of southern Mogadishu.

He believes there is a deliberate attempt by security forces to undermine business in the market.

"We have asked the traders to turn their weapons over to the government so that the security forces could guarantee their safety and that of the whole market as well," Somali police spokesman Abdulwahid Mohamed says.

"But this has not happened to the extent we had hoped for and the local traders continue to support the insurgents," he adds.

Source: AFP