July 24, 2006
Somalis Protest Ethiopia’s Presence
The BBC reported today that thousands of Somalis staged a rally in Mogadishu calling on Ethiopian troops to leave their country. Since June, Mogadishu has been run by the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC). The UIC has vowed to expel Ethiopian troops who are deployed to assist the weak transitional Somali government.
Islamic leader Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed addressed the rally that forces loyal to the Islamic courts were ready and would be allowed to fight Ethiopians when appropriate. In May, it was reported that the US government was sending funds to Ethiopia under the guise of their supporting the ‘war on terror’ but Prime Minister Meles Zenawi was funding paramilitary troops to undermine the creation of an Islamist government
“We are talking to the international community to avoid serious bloodshed and we are urging the Ethiopians to withdraw from Somalia. Patience has its own limitations,” Agence France Presse quoted him saying.
Talks held in Sudan between the UIC and the transitional government – which correspondents say has little authority outside Baidoa – have been suspended. Ethiopian troops have amassed at Somalia’s central town, Wajid and in the government’s Baidoa base. Ethiopia and the transitional government have refused to confirm Ethiopian troops are on Somali soil. Ethiopia, a long-term ally of President Abdullahi Yusuf, has warned the Islamic courts not to make any further military advance on Baidoa.
In Baidoa, prominent warlord Mohamed Qanyare has re-emerged more than one month after the Islamic courts ousted him and his militia from Mogadishu following weeks of bitter fighting. He has offered his support to the transitional government. The BBC reported that Qanyare is a strong political rival of President Yusuf, and distrusts Ethiopia. IRIN News ran a story last week on militia movements in Baidoa.
The story reported that the UIC, however, denied claims that it had moved its fighters from Buur Hakaba, 60 km north, closer to Baidoa. Some fighters who had been seen in Buur Hakaba, he added, were locals who had gone to their homes – “not part of a UIC plan to attack”.
The Islamic courts have wrested control across southern Somalia in recent weeks from many of the warlords who divided up the country into rival fiefdoms following the overthrow of Siad Barre in 1991. They appear to be making considerable progress in imposing law and order in the capital. An imposition of Sharia law would come as a backlash of Somalia being a lawless country for the past 15 years.
For more in-depth analysis on the stalemate in Baidoa–other than what’s provided in the media, read this post on Harowo’s blog. He writes that the takeover of a town neighboring Baidoa was an ICU probe of the extent of Ethiopia’s commitment to Somalia’s transitional government, rather than a planned attack on Baidoa aborted by the Ethiopians’ arrival.