Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Somalia : Car Bombs Rack Capital, 300 Die In Seven Days Of Fighting

War Spreads Between Ethiopia, Eritrea And Somalia

Four months after US-backed Ethiopian troops, aided by American gunships and CIA-ground operations, drove the Council of Islamic Courts from power in Mogadishu, the capital and surrounding villages are sinking into an abyss of horrific violence. Some 300 Somalis have died in fighting and car bomb attacks in the past seven days, with more than 700 wounded. Thousands of civilians are now fleeing the capital every day, leaving the streets to insurgents and Somali government troops, and small clusters of Ethiopian soldiers.

But the battle for control of Mogadishu, and greater Somali, is now threatening to consume Ethiopia and neighbouring Eritrea, after an estimated 200 fighters stormed a Chinese-owned oil refinery in Ethiopia, near the Eritrea border, and killed more than 70 workers, including at least eight Chinese nationals.

China is making big moves in African nations as it tries to secure energy supplies, primarily oil, to fuel its growth in the coming decades. The oil refinery attacked was one that the Chinese government was most proud of, and which it had widely promoted, as a key example of how they were working with African nations for the benefit of Africans and China.

US intelligence and military sources are telling the American media the huge attack was staged by Somali Islamists, possibly tied to Al Qaeda, but the Ethiopian government is now blaming Eritrea, who firmly denies involvement.

The attack occurred in the disputed eastern Ethiopian territory of Ogaden. Ethnic Somalis have been running a low-level insurgency in the region for decades, claiming the territory as part of Somalia.

The 'Ogaden National Liberation Front' has claimed responsibility for the attacks, and said that any development in the region that directly benefits Ethiopians will "not be tolerated."

Ethiopia links the group to the Eritrean government, who it claims has waged a series of terrorist attacks against Ethiopia. With a land mass almost as large as Britain, the Ogaden territory is valuable border lands. Ethnic Somalis have long demanded the creation of an independent state for the four million inhabitants.

Eritrea and Ethiopia battled through a long border war that ceased in 2000. Both governments accuse each other of backing rivals in the Somali fighting.

The Financial Times reports :

Abderaman Mahdi, a spokesman for the rebels, said the deaths followed a battle between their fighters and Ethiopian soldiers protecting the exploration site. Any civilians killed – including the Chinese – were in the crossfire, he said. He added that the ONLF had taken five Chinese workers alive, and would be in touch with the International Red Cross to return them.

“It is very unfortunate. But we don’t allow anybody to drill on our land without our permission. The Ethiopians do not control the Ogaden and we have warned the Chinese that we will not allow them to drill there. They want our wealth without our consent,” he said by phone.

Chinese companies are working in other conflict-prone zones of the continent including southern Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Nigeria

This report from the New York Times breaks down some of the illusions about the true scope of the Islamist "insurgency" in Somalia.

The pro-'War on Terror' spin is that Somalia is riven with hundreds of thousands of militant Muslims, prepared to fight solely for the glory of Allah. But the reality is vastly different.

The Islamists are finding new recruits among black-market trading Somalis who don't want to submit to new tax programs introduced by the US-backed government, and don't want to change their old ways of doing business on the street.

With their livelihood, such as it is, threatened by vast changes to the social and financial structure of Mogadishu, thousands of young men are looking to the deposed Islamic courts as a way of keeping their rudimentary businesses alive :
Beyond clan rivalry and Islamic fervor, an entirely different motive is helping fuel the chaos in Somalia: profit.

A whole class of opportunists — from squatter landlords to teenage gunmen for hire to vendors of out-of-date baby formula — have been feeding off the anarchy in Somalia for so long that they refuse to let go.

They do not pay taxes, their businesses are totally unregulated, and they have skills that are not necessarily geared toward a peaceful society.

In the past few weeks, some Western security officials say, these profiteers have been teaming up with clan fighters and radical Islamists to bring down Somalia’s transitional government, which is the country’s 14th attempt at organizing a central authority and ending the free-for-all of the past 16 years.

They are attacking government troops, smuggling in arms and using their business savvy to raise money for the insurgency. And they are surprisingly open about it.

Omar Hussein Ahmed, an olive oil exporter in Mogadishu, the capital, said he and a group of fellow traders recently bought missiles to shoot at government soldiers.

“Taxes are annoying,” he explained.

“Even if we turned Mogadishu into Houston, there would still be people resisting us,” said Abdirizak Adam Hassan, chief of staff for Somalia’s transitional president, Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed. “I’m talking about the guys bringing in expired medicine, selling arms, harboring terrorists. They don’t have a clan name. They’re a congregation of people whose best interests are served by no government.”

In the past month, the resistance has intensified and more than 1,000 people have been killed or wounded as the country has sunk into its deepest crisis since the famine days of the early 1990s.

Most of the victims are civilians...

Not all opportunists had the same agenda. Many in the business community became fed up with paying protection fees to the warlords and their countless middle-men.

Business leaders then backed a grass-roots Islamist movement that drove the warlords out of Mogadishu last summer and brought peace to the city for the first time in 15 years.

The Islamists seemed to be the perfect solution for the businessmen. They delivered stability, which was good for most business, but they did not confiscate property or levy heavy taxes. They called themselves an administration, not a government.

“Our best days were under them,” said Abdi Ali Jama, who owns an electrical supply shop in Mogadishu.

But then a radical wing took over, and the Islamists declared war on Ethiopia, which commands one of the mightiest armies in Africa. The Ethiopians, with covert American help, crushed the Islamist army in December and bolstered the authority of Somalia’s transitional government in the capital.

On Wednesday, Ethiopian officers reportedly met for peace talks with leaders from the Hawiye clan, Mogadishu's largest. A clan spokesman told that "rival groups will concentrate on ceasing the gun fight in the capital and and announce a ceasefire agreement."

Neither side appears to believe right now that such a ceasefire will end the fighting, and the UN is now trying to tamp down growing threats of further hostilities and payback over the massacre at the Ethiopian oil refinery.

The UN estimates more than 320,000 Somalis have fled their homeland since February.

Somali Forces Pounded By Ethiopian Tanks

Seven Days Of Fighting In Somalia Leaves 300 Dead

US Wants African Peacekeepers To Replace Their Ethiopian Proxy Army In Somalia

Bush-Pushed "Liberation" Of Somalia Kills The Poor

Ethiopia Claims Eritrea Behind Attack On Chinese-Owned Oil Refinery, US Media Blames Somalis

Thousands Flee Mogadishu, Humanitarian Crisis Looms

UN Warns Somalia Facing Its Worst Ever Crisis

January, 2007 : Third Day Of US Air Strikes Kills Dozens Of Somalis - Fears Rise That Insurgency Will Explode And Violence Will Return To Mogadishu