Friday, January 25, 2008

Somalia: Militants briefly seize control of airbase

Somalia: Militants briefly seize control of airbase
Fri. January 25, 2008 11:45 am.- By Mohamed Abdi Farah.

(SomaliNet) Three Somali soldiers were killed Friday when Islamist insurgents attacked a military air base south of Mogadishu and made away with weapons, an army official and an insurgent leader told AFP.

A group of insurgents attacked and briefly seized control of the base at Baledogle, around 90 kilometres (55 miles) west of the capital.

The fighting left three soldiers dead and five wounded, a local Somali military officer told AFP on condition of anonymity.

"Insurgents attacked our base, there was fighting that killed three of our soldiers. I don't know how many casualties the other side suffered," he said.

An elder from a nearby area confirmed the death toll.

"I saw the three bodies, which were brought to our district. The five wounded were transported to Mogadishu," Hussein Ali Mohammed told AFP.

The elder said the insurgents looted ammunition and weapons from the base.

A spokesman for the insurgents confirmed the attack and claimed that no Islamist fighters were hurt in the fighting.

"Our Islamic warriors briefly took control of the base in Baledogle after fighting the stooges of colonial Ethiopia," Sheikh Muktar Ali Robow told AFP.

"None of our fighters were harmed in the fighting. We did not encounter much resistance on the base," he added.

The spokesman -- also known by his nom de guerre "Abu Mansur" -- is a leader of the Shabab organisation, the military wing of the Islamic Courts Union, which briefly controlled large parts of Somalia in 2006.

Ethiopian troops came to the rescue of embattled Somali government forces in late 2006 to oust the Islamist militia but its remnants have since been waging a deadly guerrilla war.

The Islamist insurgents' attacks in recent months have left hundreds of civilians dead and displaced hundreds of thousands from Mogadishu.

A recent report by the African Union warned that Islamist insurgents had recently started expanding their area of operations in a bid to further destabilise stretched and ill-trained Somali forces.

"Over the past weeks, the anti-government forces have spread their activities to regions that were previously peaceful, though not necessarily under government control," said the report, released on January 18.

Source: AFP

Sunday, December 23, 2007

America's Failed Militarized Foreign Policy

by Jeffrey Sachs, Project Syndicate

December 23, 2007

Many of today's war zones - including Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, Somalia, and Sudan - share basic problems that lie at the root of their conflicts. They are all poor, buffeted by natural disasters - especially floods, droughts, and earthquakes - and have rapidly growing populations that are pressing on the capacity of the land to feed them. And the proportion of youth is very high, with a bulging population of young men of military age (15-24 years).

All of these problems can be solved only through long- term sustainable economic development. Yet the United States persists in responding to symptoms rather than to underlying conditions by trying to address every conflict by military means. It backs the Ethiopian army in Somalia. It occupies Iraq and Afghanistan. It threatens to bomb Iran. It supports the military dictatorship in Pakistan.

None of these military actions addresses the problems that led to conflict in the first place. On the contrary, American policies typically inflame the situation rather than solve it.

Time and again, this military approach comes back to haunt the US. The US embraced the Shah of Iran by sending massive armaments, which fell into the hands of Iran's Revolutionary Government after 1979. The US then backed Saddam Hussein in his attack on Iran, until the US ended up attacking Saddam himself. The US backed Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan against the Soviets, until the US ended up fighting bin Laden. Since 2001 the US has supported Pervez Musharraf in Pakistan with more than $10 billion in aid, and now faces an unstable regime that just barely survives.

US foreign policy is so ineffective because it has been taken over by the military. Even postwar reconstruction in Iraq under the US-led occupation was run by the Pentagon rather than by civilian agencies. The US military budget dominates everything about foreign policy. Adding up the budgets of the Pentagon, the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, the Department of Homeland Security, nuclear weapons programs, and the State Department's military assistance operations, the US will spend around $800 billion this year on security, compared with less than $20 billion for economic development.

In a stunning article on aid to Pakistan during the Bush administration, Craig Cohen and Derek Chollet demonstrated the disastrous nature of this militarized approach - even before the tottering Musharraf regime's latest crackdown. They show that even though Pakistan faces huge problems of poverty, population, and environment, 75% of the $10 billion in US aid has gone to the Pakistani military, ostensibly to reimburse Pakistan for its contribution to the 'war on terror,' and to help it buy F-16s and other weapons systems.

Another 16% went straight to the Pakistani budget, no questions asked. That left less than 10% for development and humanitarian assistance. Annual US aid for education in Pakistan has amounted to just $64 million, or $1.16 per school-aged child.

The authors note that 'the strategic direction for Pakistan was set early by a narrow circle at the top of the Bush administration and has been largely focused on the war effort rather than on Pakistan's internal situation.' They also emphasize that 'US engagement with Pakistan is highly militarized and centralized, with very little reaching the vast majority of Pakistanis.' They quote George Bush as saying, 'When [Musharraf] looks me in the eye and says...there won't be a Taliban and won't be al-Qaeda, I believe him, you know?'

This militarized approach is leading the world into a downward spiral of violence and conflict. Each new US weapons system 'sold' or given to the region increases the chances of expanded war and further military coups, and to the chance that the arms will be turned on the US itself. None of it helps to address the underlying problems of poverty, child mortality, water scarcity, and lack of livelihoods in places like Pakistan's Northwest Frontier Province, Sudan's Darfur region, or Somalia. These places are bulging with people facing a tightening squeeze of insufficient rainfall and degraded pasturelands. Naturally, many join radical causes.

The Bush administration fails to recognize these fundamental demographic and environmental challenges, that $800 billion of security spending won't bring irrigation to Afghanistan, Pakistan, Sudan, and Somalia, and therefore won't bring peace. Instead of seeing real people in crisis, they see caricatures, a terrorist around every corner.

A more peaceful world will be possible only when Americans and others begin to see things through the eyes of their supposed enemies, and realize that today's conflicts, having resulted from desperation and despair, can be solved through economic development rather than war. We will have peace when we heed the words of President John F. Kennedy, who said, a few months before his death, 'For, in the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children's future. And we are all mortal.' ______

[Jeffrey Sachs is Professor of Economics and Director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University.]

Copyright: Project Syndicate, 2007.
(An Association ofNewspaers Around the World)

Friday, November 30, 2007

Somalia: an epic theater of cruelty that the whole world ignores

Somalia: an epic theater of cruelty that the whole world ignores

By Sally Healy
Friday, Nov 30, 2007, Page 9
As tens of thousands more frightened and exhausted people fled the terrors of Mogadishu last week, a Somali community leader condemned the international community "for watching the cruelty in Somalia like a film and not bothering to help."

He was mistaken. The international community has barely been watching Somalia at all.

Life in Mogadishu has become even more intolerable since Ethiopia intervened last Christmas to install the transitional government of Somalian President Abdullahi Yusuf. Ethiopia had been alarmed by the aggressive rhetoric of the Islamic Courts government that had taken over the Somali capital. It had seen off the warlords and brought unprecedented order to Mogadishu. But threats of jihad against its powerful neighbor provoked a muscular response. The US stood by its regional ally, declaring that Somalia must not become a terrorist haven, and mounting a missile attack on the Islamist forces for good measure.

The Ethiopians calculated a lesser risk in having Yusuf in charge. Having installed him, they promised to withdraw quickly, agreeing to remain only while an African peacekeeping force was mounted.

Lord Triesman, the UK's minister for Africa, praised Ethiopia for creating conditions for peace and stability. British ministers were pleased to describe the new state of affairs as a window of opportunity for Somalia.

The optimism rested on highly dubious assumptions. It presupposed that the transitional government possessed legitimacy, and had the capacity to govern. It also assumed too easily that an African peacekeeping force would materialize and Ethiopian forces would leave. None of this has come to pass.

The core problem was that Somalis everywhere were appalled to see Ethiopian troops on the streets of their capital. What kind of government, they asked, needed the protection of a foreign force against its own citizens? Opposition to the Ethiopian military presence soon manifested itself and an insurgency was born.

Ethiopian forces launched massive military attacks on various quarters of the city in March and April, designed to root out extremists. Their complete disregard, and that of the insurgents, for the population's safety has been condemned by human rights organizations. But the international community took all too little notice of events in a city that was just too dangerous to visit or report on. Humanitarian organizations quietly started to provide for the 300,000 people who fled Mogadishu and established makeshift settlements under the trees. They are still there.

There were other consequences of Ethiopia's rampage through the city. It hardened the insurgents' resolve, and made new enemies among the clans targeted; it deepened opposition to the transitional government, in whose name the operations were conducted; it prompted the flight of the business people so vital for any normalization; and it alarmed African nations who might have considered joining the small Ugandan contingent to provide security and enable the Ethiopian forces to leave.

The insurgency has deepened and spread. The tactics are those of Iraq, but with more roadside bombs than suicide bombs, and a growing tally of assassinations -- most directed against office holders of the transitional government, but journalists, humanitarian workers and civil society leaders are at risk.

A government-sponsored reconciliation conference came and went, without result. A prime minister has resigned. The transitional government seems not only powerless but irrelevant, and wholly dependent on Ethiopia.

A renewed crackdown in Mogadishu has caused hundreds more deaths and pushed another 200,000 people into destitution on the roadsides.

Somalia is now the worst humanitarian situation in the world. The number of internally displaced has reached a million. Insecurity and extortion are putting untold strain on the efforts to provide humanitarian assistance.

We cannot say we were not warned. Six months ago the UN's head of humanitarian affairs highlighted the deplorable conditions of the displaced. He observed that more people had been displaced from Mogadishu in the previous two months than anywhere else in the world, and that a political solution was the only way to resolve the crisis.

"Otherwise I fear the worst," he said.

The worst has now come. What are we waiting for?

Sally Healy is an associate fellow of the Africa Program at Chatham House, the London-based foreign affairs think tank

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Soldiers continue human rights abuses in Ethiopia's beleaguered southeast, say residents

Soldiers continue human rights abuses in Ethiopia's beleaguered southeast, say residents.

Associated Press

KEBRIDEHAR, Ethiopia: Ethiopian soldiers have abused civilians, committing arson and rape, in a southeastern area where they are fighting rebels, but there have been some improvements in aid delivery, residents said.

Ethiopia's prime minister, however, denies there is a humanitarian crisis in the Ogaden and his government has denied its soldiers have committed abuses. A top United Nations relief official who visited the region Tuesday said much more remains to be done.

A thin, pensive 30-year-old man, who asked not to be identified out of fear, told The Associated Press about two incidents on Friday in which the army burned two villages, Lebiga and Korelitsa, to the ground, killing one man.

The army, the man said, was killing his neighbors "like goats."

Officials in the area said they had heard similar reports. They also asked not to be identified because of the sensitivity of the issue.

The man also described rapes — some of them gang rapes — and public hangings in the region and said that villagers had been told not to speak to international observers. Officials in the area also said villagers had been told not to speak to outsiders, and that also was mentioned in a September report by a U.N. fact-finding mission.

Another man, 26, who also asked not to be identified for fear of reprisals, accused the government of withholding food in order to punish fighters and supporters of the Ogaden National Liberation Front, a separatist movement that in April attacked a Chinese-run oil exploration field in the region, killing 74 people. In May, the Ethiopian military began counterinsurgency operations, which has stymied trade and some food aid.

On Tuesday, the region appeared calm. Government soldiers dotted the flat, arid landscape and towns of Jijiga and Kebridehar, though there was no evidence of any significant military operations. Women — some wearing scarves of hot pink — fluttered through the streets. Men in Jijiga walked along the main promenade.

But when questioned, residents were reticent. One man in Kebridehar said he believed the streets were full of military intelligence officers.

In the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, Prime Minister Meles Zenawi dismissed a question in parliament about a pending crisis in the Ogaden.

"Whatever some international media and some organizations said about the Ogaden, it's absolutely a lie that there's a humanitarian crisis in the Ogaden," Meles told parliament on Tuesday. "Some people from the U.N. actually wanted to see for themselves what was going on in the Ogaden and I told them to go see from themselves what was actually there."

John Holmes, the U.N.'s humanitarian chief, on Wednesday described the humanitarian situation in the Ogaden as "potentially serious."

"I didn't get the impression that we are in a catastrophic situation now," Holmes told journalists, adding, however, "there's an awful lot of challenges still to address."

Those challenges included opening up transport and trade, expanding food distribution and addressing human rights concerns, he said.

Holmes said he discussed these issues Wednesday with top Ethiopian officials, including Meles.

About human rights, he said Meles, "responded seriously. He takes the issue seriously."

Holmes said he heard many secondhand reports of human rights abuses and said that "they come from numerous and sufficiently varied sources to be taken seriously." He did not give details.

In recent months, Ethiopia has expelled the International Committee of the Red Cross and the Dutch branch of Medecins Sans Frontieres from Ogaden. But in recent weeks the government has allowed 19 non-governmental organizations to return to work in the Ogaden.

The U.N. fact-finding mission said in September that the situation in the Ogaden had deteriorated rapidly and called for an independent investigation into the humanitarian issues there.

The mission also said that recent fighting in the region had led to a worsening humanitarian situation and a doubling of the price of food. It also called for a substantial increase in emergency food aid to the impoverished region where rebels have been fighting for increased autonomy for more than a decade.

Simon Mechale, director of the Ethiopian government's Disaster Preparedness and Prevention Agency, said on Tuesday that his talks with people in the region provided a more optimistic picture.

"From what I have seen so far, I did not see any amazing or disturbing thing," he said.

The Ogaden National Liberation Front is fighting to overthrow the government for what it says are human rights abuses and to establish greater autonomy in the region being heavily explored for oil and gas. The government accuses the rebels of being terrorists funded by its archenemy Eritrea.