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Thursday, October 16, 2008

Steve Bloomfield in Nairobi

SOMALIA'S FRAGILE government appears to be on the brink of collapse. Islamist insurgents now controls large parts of southern and central Somalia - and are continuing to launch attacks inside the capital, Mogadishu.
  • Ethiopia, which launched a US-backed military intervention in Somalia in December 2006 in an effort to drive out an Islamist authority in Mogadishu, is now pulling out its troops.
  • Diplomats and analysts in neighbouring Nairobi believe the government will fall once Ethiopia completes its withdrawal
  • Plans have been made to evacuate government ministers to neighbouring Kenya.

A shipment of Ethiopian weapons, including tanks, left Mogadishu port last month as part of the withdrawal.

  • Bringing the equipment back to Ethiopia by land would have been impossible - analysts believe Ethiopian troops and their Somali government allies control just three small areas in Mogadishu and a few streets in Baidoa, the seat of parliament.
  • There are now estimated to be just 2500 Ethiopian soldiers left inside Somalia, down from 15,000-18,000 at the height of the war.
  • Violence and insecurity have made it almost impossible for aid to get through, and 24 aid workers have been killed in Somalia so far this year.
  • A recent shipment of food aid needed a military escort to navigate Somalia's pirate-infested waters. But within hours of the food being unloaded in Mogadishu's port most of it was stolen by gun-toting gangs.
  • Oxfam, Save The Children and 50 other aid agencies working in Somalia last week said the international community had "completely failed Somali civilians".
  • As the crisis worsens thousands are trying to leave the country every week. Around 6000 people are now crossing the border into Kenya every month - despite the Kenyan government's decision to close the border.
  • Some are arriving at the overcrowded Dadaab refugee camp in eastern Kenya, which is now one of the largest refugee camps in the world with nearly 250,000 people.
  • Others try to leave by sea, travelling to the northern town of Bosasso and paying $100 to people smugglers who ram more than 100 people onto a small fishing boat and set sail for Yemen. Many do not make it. Smugglers last week forced 150 people off the boat three miles off the Yemeni coast. Only 47 made it to shore.

Attempts to find a political solution have stalled. The UN claims progress has been made, citing an agreement signed in neighbouring Djibouti by the Somali government and the opposition Alliance for the Reliberation of Somalia (ARS).

But the deal has been signed only by the moderates on each side: Prime Minister Nur Adde and the ARS's Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed.

The Islamist leaders they were so keen to oust are the same ones they are now engaged in negotiations with. US officials have met both Sheikh Sharif and the more hardline Sheikh Aweys in an effort to find a peace deal.

Meanwhile, in Somalia, the Islamists taking control of towns and villages across the country are considered far more extremist than Aweys. "They are real international jihadis," said one Nairobi-based diplomat. "The Americans' fear of al-Qaeda in Somalia is becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy."

The Rest @ The Sunday Herald

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