Violence In Somalia Over Disarmament

Violence In Somalia Over Disarmament
January 7th, 2007  
Team Infidel

Topic: Violence In Somalia Over Disarmament

Violence In Somalia Over Disarmament
New York Times
January 7, 2007
Pg. 3

By Jeffrey Gettleman
KISMAYO, Somalia, Jan. 6 — Hundreds of Somalis stormed Saturday into the streets of Mogadishu, Somalia’s already unsteady capital, to hurl rocks at Ethiopian troops allied with the government and to protest a disarmament program that Somali leaders ended up scrapping.
Meanwhile, near Kismayo, along Somalia’s southern coast, Ethiopian-led forces continued to hunt down the last remnants of the once powerful Islamist forces, who ruled much of the country until Ethiopia and its powerful army intervened last month.
According to Abdul Rashid Hidig, a government official in Kismayo, the Ethiopian-led forces blew up several of the Islamists’ armed pickup trucks, leaving hundreds of fighters cornered in a remote jungle with their backs to the Indian Ocean and no way to escape. “I think it will be over very soon,” Mr. Hidig said.
Still, a pack of gunmen attacked a government patrol near Kismayo’s market on Saturday night, and the cracks and whistles of their high-powered rifles echoed across what had been a rather quiet town. It was unclear if anyone was hurt.
Despite much tactical success in recent weeks, Somalia’s transitional government appears to have failed its first leadership test: disarmament. After 16 years of anarchy, the streets of Mogadishu are awash with military-grade weaponry, much of it in the hands of illiterate teenagers. Scooping up these guns was one of the first goals of the transitional government, which had struggled for the past two years to assert control and then, nearly overnight, found itself in charge of a needy, violent country.
On Monday, Ali Mohammed Gedi, a veterinarian turned transitional prime minister, demanded that all Somalis surrender their weapons in three days. Only a handful of Mr. Gedi’s allies complied, so the prime minister extended the deadline, but still, most Somalis did not give up their guns.
Even former military officers disagreed with Mr. Gedi’s approach, saying it would take months, not days, to disarm the populace and that the government should negotiate with militiamen and clan elders.
With the new deadline set to expire Saturday morning and with Mr. Gedi threatening house-to-house searches, riots exploded.
No matter that officials in the government had decided at the last minute to abandon the disarmament program, at least temporarily. By the time the government got the word out Saturday, hundreds of people had already flooded into Mogadishu’s streets. Residents quickly erected roadblocks out of chunks of concrete and flaming tires, and some witnesses said men with rocket-propelled grenades lurked in doorways, prepared to attack government troops.
According to several protesters, the demonstrations were organized by the defeated Islamist movement, which still has thousands of supporters, many armed, in the capital. The supporters had melted back into the population late last month after the Islamists abandoned Mogadishu, ceding it to Ethiopian and Somali forces without a fight.
On Saturday, women in a kaleidoscope of colored shawls shook Korans in their hands and shouted “Down, down, Ethiopia!” and “The infidels must die!” Ethiopia is a country with a long Christian history, though it is about half Muslim. Somalia’s Islamist leaders have repeatedly tried to stir up support by casting the Ethiopian troops as infidel invaders.
The demonstrators surged through downtown Mogadishu lighting fires with plastic jugs of gasoline, throwing rocks at cars and punching fists through windows.
“Unless we do this, the Ethiopians will never leave,” said Nuro Ibraheim, a 28-year-old woman. The protesters surrounded a military camp used by Ethiopian and government troops and began to pelt it with stones. According to witnesses, Ethiopian troops first fired in the air. When that did not work, the witnesses said, the soldiers aimed into the crowd and several people were hurt. Hospital officials said one teenage boy was killed.
By midday, the violence had flared out, and the demonstrators had gone home.
“We have postponed the disarmament until an unspecified time,” said Salad Ali Jelle, the deputy defense minister. “We are now talking with clan elders about how to proceed.”
The transitional government, a mix of clan elders, foreign-educated professionals and former warlords, was formed in 2004 with the help of United Nations officials and has a mandate to rule until proposed elections in 2009. The transitional government concedes that it needs outside muscle to maintain order once the Ethiopians go home.
Americans officials have been heavily lobbying African allies, especially Uganda, Nigeria and South Africa, to contribute troops to a peacekeeping force. On Sunday, Jendayi E. Frazer, the United States assistant secretary of state for Africa, is scheduled to visit Mogadishu for four hours to meet with Somali leaders and intellectuals.
The trip is still tentative because of the continuing turmoil. If Ms. Frazer does arrive, she will be the highest ranking American official to set foot in Somalia since American forces pulled out of the country in 1994, the year after 18 Americans were killed during an attempt to capture a warlord in Mogadishu.
Mohammed Ibrahim and Yuusuf Maxamuud contributed reporting from Mogadishu.

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