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Monday, January 31, 2011

Why 2010 was a watershed year for peace in Somalia, though risks remain

When I came to Mogadishu… there was one road built by the Italians. If you try to force me to stand down, I will leave the city as I found it,” so said the late Somali president, Gen Mohamed Siad Barre.

On January 26, Somalia marked two decades since his overthrow. In that time, much of the Somali capital, as well as much of the country, has indeed been reduced to rubble.

Still, when history is written, 2010 may well come to be regarded as the year Somalia rejected Barre’s gloomy prediction.

The year witnessed the full deployment of the continental peacekeeping force, the African Union Mission in Somalia (Amisom) as well as the beginning of the collapse of extremist insurgency against the country’s internationally recognised Transitional Federal Government (TFG).

However, it also marked a new phase in the internationalisation of the Somali conflict, with Al Shabaab carrying out attacks outside Somalia for the first time.

When the year began, the country was still reeling from the December 3, 2009 suicide bombing of a graduation ceremony for medical students that killed over 30 people.

The TFG was still riven by internal wrangling and unable to deliver services to the needy population. The 4,000 Ugandan and Burundian peacekeepers, only half their then mandated strength of 8,000, controlled less than a third of the capital, Mogadishu, and were struggling to keep the insurgents at bay.
Internationally, arguments for “constructive disengagement” from Somalia were gaining strength with proponents advocating the withdrawal of the AU forces, paving the way for an Al Shabaab takeover.

Undaunted, the AU continued to deploy more troops. In January, Amisom controlled only the seaport, the airport, the state house, Villa Somalia and the famous K-4 junction in Mogadishu.

As its capacity improved, and more troops arrived, Amisom extended its deployment in the capital. By April, when their number had surpassed 6,000, it had established 12 bases and was pushing back the insurgents.

By October, the force had stretched its control to the Juba Hotel, Bondere, Shakara, the parliament building, the Coca- Cola factory, Dabka junction, Fishbay, and Singale.

Today, with Amisom support, the government can exercise its authority in over 60 per cent of the city area and 80 per cent of its population. In many of these areas, life, business and the economy are slowly returning to normal.

This reality has been attested to by many independent analysts of the Somali conflict. For instance, according to a recent article in the Economist: “The Makaal Mukarama Road, which links the presidential palace with the AU headquarters at the airport, was previously unsafe. The Shabaab targeted it with improvised explosive devices, machine gun-fire and mortars. Now packed minibuses and private cars pass up and down.”

Much of this progress was achieved in the face of a determined and ruthless campaign of terror waged by the insurgents.

On July 11, a week before a scheduled meeting of AU Heads of State in the Ugandan capital, Kampala, Al Shabaab carried out twin terrorist attacks in the city killing 76 people as they watched the World Cup finals.

While the extremists doubtless hoped to dent the AU resolve, the atrocities had the opposite effect. The Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (Igad) immediately agreed to deploy a further 2,000 troops, and shortly thereafter the AU recommended the expansion of the Amisom force to 20,000.

The gruesome attacks, combined with the continued infusion of foreign fighters into Al Shabaab and Al Qaeda endorsement of its activities, also put paid to the idea that abandoning Somalia to the extremists would enhance the safety of the region.

In August, during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, the extremists launched what they called a “terminal offensive” with the declared intention of dislodging the Amisom forces from Mogadishu.

This offensive was an outright failure and by the time the fighting died down, Amisom had established a total of 26 positions, many on ground taken from the insurgents who had lost at least 500 fighters.

Civilian targets

Unable to dislodge the peacekeepers and topple the TFG, the Al Qaeda-aligned extremists, under the tutelage of foreign fighters, turned on the civilian population.

On August 24, militants wearing Somali military uniforms stormed Muna hotel in Mogadishu, firing indiscriminately and killing close to 40 people, including six parliamentarians.

A day later, a roadside bomb killed 15 people, including several schoolchildren. Another suicide attack, in September, this time on the Aden Ade International Airport, also claimed the lives of nine.

This only further alienated them from the populace.
On the political front, an initial draft of the new Constitution was completed and submitted to the Independent Commission for scrutiny. On President Sheikh Sharif’s request, a committee of experts was established to review the draft to align it with Somali culture and values.
The TFG wrangles also came to a head in September when Prime Minister Omar Abdirashid Ali Sharmarke resigned saying he could not resolve the differences he had with President Sheikh Sharif.

In October, parliament confirmed the president’s appointment of Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed as the new premier and later approved his vastly reduced 18-strong Cabinet, largely made up of technocrats from the diaspora.

This new government had an immediate impact. TFG soldiers, unpaid for the previous 12 months, were immediately paid a month’s salary within the government’s first 40 days in office, and proper registration procedures are in place.

The seaport of Mogadishu also recorded an immediate doubling of revenues paid into the national Treasury and an annual budget was published and passed by parliament.

With Amisom’s support, a capacity building programme targeting key ministries was launched and is equipping Somali civil servants with professional skills.

The government also began delivering services to the population in Mogadishu, many of whom continue to flee the brutal strictures of the Al Shabaab to the relative safety of government controlled areas where they can access medical attention and humanitarian aid.

Defying Barre’s jeremiad, the city’s mayor, Mohammed Nur, has rolled out a programme of road rehabilitation and begun providing street lighting and rebuilding markets in the capital.

He has also submitted to development partners a four-year plan for regenerating the city, the first time this has ever been done.

For its part, Amisom distributed nearly two million litres of clean drinking water to civilians living near its bases in addition to providing them with free medical services at its hospital and outpatient clinics.

The situation in Somalia remains fragile and dangerous. The insurgents may have suffered severe setbacks but they still retain the capacity to kill and maim.

The United Nation’s Security Council decision last December to authorise the deployment of a further 4,000 Amisom troops will prove crucial this year.

With the extra soldiers, Amisom and the TFG can secure and hold a significant part of the rest of Mogadishu, and in turn bring more relief to civilians.

The return of the first batch of 1,000 Somali government soldiers currently being trained by the EU in Bihanga, Uganda, will contribute immensely to this endeavour.
This could not have come too soon as famine is looming in the wake of drought and continued fighting. Amisom’s role in facilitating the delivery of humanitarian aid and alleviating the suffering of millions will be increasingly critical.

Partners from the international community should now demonstrate their commitment to assisting the needy Somali population including those living in areas controlled by the armed opposition groups such as Al Shabaab.

The TFG also faces huge challenges. As more areas are brought under its control, the government will need more international help to deliver services.

And with its mandate due to run out in August, it also needs to get to grips with the pending transitional tasks, especially the conclusion of the Constitution-making process.

In this light, the continued engagement of the international community cannot be gainsaid. Somalia stands on the brink of a new era, thanks to the efforts and sacrifices of the TFG, Amisom and other partners.

It is crucial that this opportunity to build upon the achievements made in 2010, and to prove Barre wrong, is not wasted.

Source: The East African

Somali pirates could soon face US military action

The United States may soon respond more aggressively to Somali piracy following a warning to the United Nations Security Council that the pirates are becoming “the masters” of the Indian Ocean.

The intensifying US and international focus on lawlessness off East Africa’s coast coincides with the 20th anniversary of the overthrow of Somalia’s last functioning government. Violent anarchy has prevailed in the country ever since the ouster of Siad Barre in January 1991.

Vice Admiral Mark Fox, commander of US Navy forces in the Indian Ocean, suggested last week that the world’s nations should act as vigorously toward pirates as they do toward terrorists.

“I’m not advocating we suddenly come out with guns blazing and just change everything,” Fox told reporters in Washington. “But I would advocate that we use the same techniques that have been successful in our counter terror that we have not heretofore used in our counter-piracy.”

Fox said the US and its allies should pressure pirates on-shore by disrupting their supply lines and financing. Such a strategy may have already become operative.

According to a report in the January 20 Daily Nation of Kenya, five soldiers landed by helicopter in a remote part of central Somalia, took away three local youths and questioned them for three hours on a large ship offshore as to whether they were pirates.

A spokesman for the US Africa Command responded to the report by saying no American forces were involved in that “alleged event.”

Vice Admiral Fox’s comments followed by one day a UN special advisor’s pessimistic assessment of current efforts to deter piracy.

“The situation is serious,” declared Jack Lang, the UN Secretary-General’s Special Advisor on Piracy. “I would even say it’s worsening.

“There is this race between the pirates and the international community, and progressively that race is being won by the pirates,” Mr Lang added in an oral report to the Secury Council. He estimated that piracy in the Indian Ocean is costing shippers and governments up to $7 billion a year.

Mr Lang said the Somali marauders have upgraded their technology and arsenal, making use of GPS devices and heavy weaponry.

He also expressed concern that the pirates could develop ties with the Shabaab militants fighting to overthrow the US- and UN-backed transitional government in Mogadishu.

Similar worries about a pirate-terrorist nexus in Somalia were cited by US ambassador Susan Rice in her remarks to the same session of the Security Council. And Vice Admiral Fox warned that pirates could threaten cruise ships.

Nine of every 10 captured pirates are being released because of inadequate capacity to prosecute and incarcerate them, Mr Lang added.

He recommended that piracy-focused courts and prisons be established in the breakaway regions of Puntland and Somaliland.

A Somali-administered court should also be set up in Arusha during a transitional period prior to being transferred to Mogadishu, Mr Lang added.

Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete is “open” to this proposal, he said. It would cost about $25 million to establish these courts and prisons, Mr Lang estimated, suggesting that is a small price in comparison to the billions of dollars lost to piracy.

Ms Rice said the United States agreed that “targeted co-operation with Somaliland and Puntland [should] be increased.” That comment is causing some analysts to speculate that the Obama administration may be moving toward tacit recognition of the two territories as sovereign entities.

Source: The East African

Somali pirates free 3 Pinoy seafarers

Somali pirates on Friday freed 3 Filipino seafarers working on a Taiwan-flagged fishing vessel, according to the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA).

Citing a report from the Philippine embassy in Nairobi, the DFA said the pirates released the FV Tai Yuan 227.

The DFA did not mention the names of the seafarers.

The department said the ship’s owner received news on the vessel’s release from the ship's master.

“It was earlier reported that the vessel was used as a mother ship and that a few days ago, 4 pirates and 2 crew members were injured after an armed battle with the Dutch naval ship at high seas,” the DFA said in a press statement.

The FV Tai Yuan 227 had a multinational crew of 28 and was operating near the Seychelles when attacked by pirates last May 6, 2010. The vessel was in pirates’ hands for almost 8 months.

Aside from the 3 Filipino seafarers, the vessel also had Chinese, Vietnamese, Kenyan and Mozambican crew members.

A US warship provided the crew with fresh water and food after the release, the DFA said.

The vessel is now moving away from Somalia.

There are currently 123 Filipino seafarers on board 11 vessels being held captive by Somali pirates in the Gulf of Aden, according to the DFA.


Somali students 'stranded' by Egyptian demonstrations

Somali students have not left their homes since the start of large demonstrations Friday, which the Egyptian people called Angry Friday.

Somali students in Egypt are strongly affected by the ongoing demonstrations and unrest against the Hosni Mubarak regime, a Somali student said Sunday.

Abdinasir Omar, a Somali university student in Cairo, told All Headline News by telephone that Somali students can’t go to the universities because of the unrest in Egypt now in its sixth day.

“We are stranded here in our houses. Everywhere in the city, even in front of our home; a lot of protesters are marching as gunshots could be heard in Cairo city sometimes,” Omar lamented. He added that Somali students can't attend their regular university periods because most Egyptian university students are taking part in the demonstrations.

“All the streets are packed by a lot of protesters. Sometimes, clashes broke out between protesters and police forces. But, what made the situation more frightening is that Egypt’s military forces accompanied by tanks, other armored vehicles and helicopters hovering upon us could be seen in Cairo, particularly the neighborhood of Nasr City where we live in,” he recounted.

He said Somali students had not left their homes since the start of large demonstrations Friday, which the Egyptian people called Angry Friday.

The student said that because the situation of Egypt is unpredictable, they will be staying at home as long as the unrest is going on.

Since the fall of Somalia’s central rule in 1991, more than 1 million people fled to neighboring countries and other nations in the world.

More than 3,500 refugees from Somalia live in Egypt, some of whom are university students.


Sunday, January 30, 2011

Discussion on GTP underway in Somali State

The Somali State said it is holding discussion with natives of the State residing here and abroad on ways and means of realizing the five-year Growth and Transformation Plan (GTP).

Public Relations Advisor of the Somali State Government, Abdulfetah Shale Sherif, said at the ongoing discussion in Jijjiga town that activities are underway to brief all stakeholders on Ethiopia’s five-year GTP and the ongoing peace, good governance and development efforts.

Abdulfetah added that some eight discussion forums will also be organized in the future so as to well acquaint the natives with the plan and successfully realize it.

He finally called on all natives and leaders of the State to join hands for the efficient realization of the plan, which aims at eradicating poverty in the country.

A delegation led by the Chief of the Somali State, Abdi Mohamud Omar, has been holding discussion with natives of the State residing in USA on ways to further strengthen the development efforts underway in the State.


Somali gangsters killing to 'save face': Drug trade source

By ANDREW HANON, Edmonton Sun

The handful of Somali gangsters who’ve traveled here from Ontario in recent years are connected to the Crips street gang.

A source close to Edmonton’s drug trade says that when people flooding into Alberta during the economic boom a few years ago, drug dealers came with them to take scoop up some of the free-flowing money.

“These guys are all connected to the Crips,” said the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “They bring in drugs from the east. They come here to the city and Fort McMurray, find jobs and sell. They recruit local kids to work for them. They look in the African communities for foot soldiers, but they’ll use anyone.”

Sneering, the source said much of the bloodbath is pointless. It has nothing to do with disputes over turf or unpaid debts. These gangsters are willing to kill each other over perceived insults and slights. And if an innocent bystander gets in the way, well that’s just too bad.

“They know each other, and they know each other well,” the source said. “A lot of the killing is just stupid s---t. It’s all about saving face, blood for blood. It’s not about business. Some of these guys have no values.”


Killings of young Somali men a complex story

By ANDREW HANON, Edmonton Sun

When 23-year-old Mohammed Jama was shot to death in front of horrified onlookers at a restaurant on New Year’s Eve, he became the 11th young man from Edmonton’s Somali community to die in a hail of gunfire in less than 30 months.

Cops say that most of the victims had some kind of tie to the drug trade. Many moved here from Toronto within the last few years.

The body count has horrified the city and sent ripples of fear, dread and anger through the city’s rapidly-growing Somali community. Its 14,000 members make up the largest Somali-Canadian community outside of southern Ontario and the largest African community in Edmonton.

A youth worker who helps immigrant teens fears more young Somalis will end up in body bags if more isn’t done to keep some young men from “falling through the cracks.”

“First off,” says Ahmed Abdullahi, who is also Somali, “I want to stress that the vast majority of Somali kids do well. They get good marks in school and they’ll go on to university or a career and contribute to society.”

But there is small group of kids, he says, who feel “disconnected with their community but haven’t connected with mainstream society.”

Abduallahi says typically, these boys grow up without a father. Divorce is rare in the Somali community, but whenever it happens, the father vanishes to another city, remarries and starts a new family. The ex-wife and children never hear from him again.

The mother, often with little education and poor English, becomes overwhelmed.

“You can see it coming,” says Abdullahi. “These teens kids start getting disillusioned. Their school attendance drops dramatically, their marks fall. They’re very defiant and angry.”

They become easy pickings for drug dealers looking for foot soldiers.

“Suddenly they’re bringing money home. Their mother is just happy to see some more income and she believes him when he says he’s got a job,” he says. “And they have a group to identify with, a place to belong.”

One such case was Abdinasir Dirie, a 19-year-old who came West looking for work to make some money so he could study computer science at the University of Toronto.

According to his family, he quit his job in an Edmonton restaurant in August, 2010, and went north looking for a better paying oilsands work. His family lost all contact, but by January he was arrested on drug trafficking charges.

Four months later he contacted his family in Toronto to say he wanted to come home.

The following day Dirie’s body was found in a Fort McMurray apartment. He’d been shot.

So far, the story could apply to any immigrant group to Canada.

But it’s even more complex for struggling new Somali families, Abdullahi says, because to often the parents bring their homeland’s clan rivalries with them.

“People from one group have nothing to do with another,” he says.

Abdullahi says there are at least five different Somali cultural associations in the city and they’re all rivals.

“Some are better than others at being inclusive, but if there’s funding for any special programming, they all compete for it instead of working together,” he said.

He added that the marginalized kids refuse to have anything to do with these community groups, which are run by traditional men with a traditional mindset.

“These men need to move over and start let the younger, educated adults start having a say,” he said. “Only then will these rivalries be put aside and we can do a better job of helping these kids.”

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*Homicide victims from Edmonton’s Somali community

Aug. 24, 2008: Mohamed Ali Ibrahim, 24, gunned down outside the River Cree Resort and Casino on the city’s western edge. Charges laid.

Sept. 1, 2008: Farhan Hassan, 27, of Calgary is gunned down outside a party at Fulton Place community hall on Fulton Road and 62 Street.

Sept. 1, 2008: Kassim Mohamed, 31, of Edmonton is also shot to death outside the same party.

Sept. 16, 2008: Nasir Mohamed Said, 22, shot to death behind Balwin School, 7055 132 Avenue.

Oct. 31, 2008: Abas Akubar, 20, found in park near 140 Avenue and 92 Street. He had been shot to death.

Dec. 2, 2008: Abdul Kadir Mohammoud, 23, shot dead and left in a field in Grand Trunk Park near 132 Avenue and 109 Street.

Dec. 2, 2008: Ahmed Mohammed Abdirahman, 21, shot to death in a parking lot near 148 Avenue and 88A Avenue.

April 26, 2009: Mohamad Farah Khalif, 20, shot to death in Hermitage Park. Two men charged.

Nov. 12, 2009: Adulaziz Osman Isse was found behind a dumpster at Beth Israel Synagogue, 131 Wolf Willow Rd. He had been shot.

April 21, 2010: 19-year-old Abdinasir Abdulkadir Dirie, who had moved from Edmonton to Fort McMurray, was found shot to death in an apartment in the northern city.

Jan. 2, 2011: Mohammed Jama, 23, is gunned down in front of dozens of New Year’s Eve revelers in the Papyrus Restaurant and Lounge, 11124 107 Avenue.


Indian Navy sinks mother-ship of Somali pirates in Arabian Sea, 15 held

The Indian Navy ship INS Cankarso exchanged fire with a pirate vessel after two skiffs deployed from the ship were spotted on Friday morning near the Lakshadweep Isles. Fifteen pirates were taken into custody, and the ship recovered 20 fishermen of Thai and Myanmarese nationality, who were the original crew of the fishing vessel.

The skiffs were originally tracked by the coast guard and the Indian Naval Dornier aircraft, which retreated to the ‘mother pirate’ vessel Prantalay, which had been hijacked in April 2010.

The INS Cankarso (a recently commissioned water jet fast attack craft), which was already deployed in the area for anti-piracy patrol, was directed to intercept and investigate Prantalay.

The INS Cankarso initially fired a warning shot ahead of the bows of the pirate vessel to halt its progress on a westerly course. Instead of stopping, however, Prantalay opened fire on the naval ship. INS Cankarso returned limited fire in self-defence.

A fire broke out on the pirate vessel, after which several personnel were seen jumping overboard. The INS Cankarso was subsequently joined by INS Kalpeni and ICGS Sankalp. Naval and coast guard ships and aircraft are presently in the area searching for any other fishermen or pirates. This incident comes soon after a Bangladeshi-flagged merchant vessel was apprehended last month near Indian waters.

The Indian ambassador to the UN, Hardeep Singh Puri, had recently presented a five-point action plan to combat the menace of piracy to the Security Council of the United Nations. In addition to the anti-piracy patrols in the Gulf of Aden since October 2008, the Indian Navy and the coast guard have been maintaining vigil west of the Lakshadweep Islands, and carrying out search operations for the past couple of months. This has kept international shipping lanes in this region safe from piracy attacks, with piracy incidents seeing a 75 percent decline since December 2010.

The south-eastern Arabian Sea is a focal point of international traffic, and the security of these sea lanes in the Arabian Sea is critical to the flow of global trade.


Saturday, January 29, 2011

Oxfam says drought worsens

A global international aid agency, Oxfam, warned on Monday that Somalia is suffering its worst drought in years and failed rains are already devastating half a million lives.

An ongoing conflict in the country together with the drought has pushed hundreds of thousands of Somalis beyond their ability to cope, the agency said.

"The region has been hit very hard. Drought and hunger are so severe that thousands have fled the relative security of their villages and headed to Mogadishu.

"They are desperate enough that they will risk the fighting and shelling there, in order to find food," said Zachariah Imeje, program officer for Oxfam.

In a statement issued in Nairobi, the aid agency said the new catastrophe should be the final "wake-up" call for the international community as millions are at risk of hunger.

The central and southern regions are suffering the worst effects, where some areas have received 0 to 15 percent of their usual rainfall.

In the Gedo region of the south, the Food Security and Nutrition Analysis Unit (FSNAU) is reporting 25 per cent of the population to be acutely malnourished.

In the nearby Juba regions, that number rises to 30 per cent.

Livestock herds have been decimated, forcing destitute pastoralists to migrate to towns and villages in search of aid.

The failure of the Deyr rainy season, normally from October to December, has left severe food and water shortages that are expected to get worse in the coming months.

"More than two million people in Somalia were already living in crisis. Additional support will be needed for them to cope, or this drought could push them over the edge into an even more acute catastrophe," said Imeje.

Oxfam called upon all local authorities to allow the safe and secure passage of humanitarian aid and personnel to those populations in need.

It also called upon donors to continue to provide generous support for emergency needs, and long term development in order to strengthen the livelihoods sector to prevent Somalis from falling into poverty.

The ongoing conflict makes access to the worst hit regions difficult.

In some areas, access for humanitarian organisations seeking to reach those in need continues to be severely restricted due to the security situation.

"We are getting desperate. There isn’t any grass available for the animals and the shallow wells have dried.

"Buying water is expensive and out of reach for most of the pastoralists like me, we simply do not have money to buy the water," said Osman, a pastoralist in Hiraan Province, north of the capital.

"The worst part is this is expected to continue for the next three months.

"We used to move to the neighboring regions before, but this time the entire country is the same, there is no better place."

With little government support to depend on, Somalia is one of the world’s poorest countries.

Two decades of conflict have left infrastructure in tatters, and an entire generation has grown up without peace.

More than two million people are dependent on humanitarian aid for survival and one in six Somali children suffer from acute malnutrition.

"The animals are dying of hunger and so are the people because they were our source of survival. We can’t sell (our livestock) as there is no market. We can’t feed them, we are in a predicament," said Osman.

Somalia has been without a functioning central government since 1991.

There are currently 1.4 million displaced people in Somalia, as well as more than half a million Somali refugees in neighboring countries of East Africa.

The Food Security Network and Analysis Unit is a network in Somalia that gathers and analyses essential food security, livelihood and nutrition data that informs both emergency and development interventions.

Somalia has one of the highest malnutrition rates in the world, with more than 230,000 children that are acutely malnourished. One in every seven children in Somalia dies before the age of five.

Source: Xinhua

Somalis mark 20 years of brutal war

Fall of a socialist dictator resulted in clan-based conflict.BY


Aweys Abdullahi Ali has never known a day of peace in Somalia. Gunmen have killed his mother, set his home on fire, driven away his friends. Ali, who is 20, sees no end to the violence.

Wednesday marked the 20th anniversary of the fall of Siad Barre, Somalia's socialist dictator whose overthrow ushered in years of brutal clan-based conflict. This arid Horn of Africa nation is now home to a generation of people who have known nothing but war. Some have seen neighbors beheaded by al-Qaida-linked insurgents or killed in U.S. missile strikes.

"I've woken up to the crack of gunfire ever since I was young," said Ali, a dark-eyed young man with a wisp of a beard. "I never believed Somalia was ever peaceful and I used to wonder what my parents were talking about when they told me about the old days."

Ali, like most of Somalia's 8 million citizens, was born after Barre's fall. Even though Barre had his opponents imprisoned and tortured, Ali imagines the dictatorship as a long-vanished golden age compared to the anarchy that is now affecting all of Somalia except for the northern regions of Somaliland and Puntland.

Government forces and al-Qaida-linked insurgents have carved up the battle-scarred capital of Mogadishu. Temporary roadblocks, some just rusting barbed wire stretched across the cratered roads, mark constantly shifting front lines.

Gunmen scan the waiting citizens: Are their beards too long? Not long enough? Is that one a spy? What clan are they from? Do they have any money? The lucky passers-by are just told to pay a bribe.

"Once I refused, and they showed me the body of a dead young man and said if I don't pay something they will kill me," Ali recalled.

Not even home is safe. Last year, the gunmen came to rob Ali's neighbors. The woman screamed. Ali's mother ran outside to help. They shot her.

"We rushed her to Medina hospital but she died," Ali recalled. Medina, one of the better-equipped hospitals in Mogadishu, is frequently so full of war casualties that the overflow of patients are treated in tents outside.

These days, Ali and his father live in a ruined house near an African Union peacekeeping base. There's no water or electricity. The afternoons are sweltering and dull. There are no jobs.

"Imagine being 20 and never having been to school," said Denise Shepherd-Johnson, a spokeswoman for UNICEF. More than two-thirds of Somali children have not completed even primary school, she said.

"Imagine in the future you're asked to run a country and you have no idea what a government even does. Imagine trying to dream when the world of possibilities is so limited you are just trying to survive," she said.

Source: The Associated Press

Chandlers' teenage kidnap suspect held in Kenya as police reveal five Somali pirates have links to asylum-claim families in Britain

A pirate believed to be a key member of the gang that kidnapped Paul and Rachel Chandler is under arrest in Kenya.

The Daily Mail can reveal the Somali was picked up in the Indian Ocean along with five other suspected pirates.

It is the first arrest in the case and two Scotland Yard anti-terror officers have flown to Nairobi to liaise with authorities there.

The suspect, who is believed to be in his teens, is thought to have guarded the Chandlers during their year’s captivity.

The couple from Tunbridge Wells in Kent spoke graphically about their ordeal in a series of Daily Mail interviews, revealing they were threatened by a young member of the pirate gang.

They were freed in November following the payment of £450,000 and supplied descriptions and names of their captors.

It is likely that a photograph of the man detained by the Kenyans will be shown to the Chandlers for identification.

It is not known which navy intercepted the boat he was in.

Last night security sources insisted the two UK officers did not interview any suspects during their visit to Kenya last week.

Scotland Yard released a brief statement saying: ‘We can confirm that Metropolitan Police officers travelled to Kenya where they met officials and held discussions.’

A key figure in the investigation is likely to be Dahir Abdullahi Kadiye, a 56-year-old former minicab driver from East London who helped secure the couple’s release.

Mr Kadiye, a father of two, who arrived from Somalia in 1997 as a refugee and now has UK citizenship, met with the pirates and their representatives during six months trying to broker a deal to free the Chandlers.

If the suspect being held in Kenya is charged it is not clear where he would be put on trial.

Unlike some European countries, Britain has not staged any trials of alleged Somali pirates and an agreement between Kenya and the EU to try suspects expired at the end of last month.

The suspected pirate would be able to seek asylum in Britain only if he stood trial in the UK.

If he was convicted by a British court, lawyers could argue at the end of sentence that the man would face persecution in his homeland of Somalia – because of the fact he had been imprisoned in the UK.

The government does not deport to war-torn Somalia, which has an appalling human rights record.

It is possible, but investigators believe unlikely, that the pirate could seek asylum in Kenya, Somalia’s neighbour.

Kenya has jailed 26 suspects captured at sea off Somalia and 84 are awaiting trial.

Meanwhile international investigators have uncovered evidence of the European connections of the Somali pirate clans and at least five have family living in the UK.

One 32-year-old member of the gang that held the Chandlers, who were seized at gunpoint as they sailed their yacht near the Seychelles in October 2008, has boasted of planning to join his wife and two children in London. He said his family had claimed political asylum in UK and investigators believe at least two more pirate families plan to do the same.

A member of a gang responsible for seizing two tankers last year is said to have a wife, children and sister in the UK. Investigators have been studying hundreds of satellite and mobile telephone calls made between Somalia and the UK and believe ransom money is being sent to contacts in the UK and Europe.

Somali piracy has become big business with more than £60million in ransoms paid last year and the average payment rising from £100,000 in 2005 to £3.3million last year.

In the first three weeks of this year 25 ships have been attacked and five captured with an estimated 700 crew.

Twenty-eight vessels are being held in the coastal pirate towns of Haradheere and Hobyo.

It is estimated that the annual cost of piracy to the world economy is in excess of £5billion in additional insurance, security, naval escort vessels and ships having to take longer routes.

Home Secretary Theresa May has highlighted the links between British extremists and Somalia saying some UK citizens travel there to train alongside groups that are linked to Al Qaeda. Anti-terrorist investigators believe some have returned to Britain and they have been specifically investigating associations between the UK and the ever increasing number of pirate gangs.

Giving a stark warning about the terror threat from the Horn of Africa during a speech in November, Mrs May said: ‘We know that people from this country have already gone to Somalia to fight.

‘It seems highly likely, given experience elsewhere, that if left to their own devices we would eventually see British extremists, trained and hardened on the streets of Mogadishu, returning to the UK and seeking to commit mass murder on the streets of London.’

Terrorists originally from the region have already tried to strike in Britain forming part of the failed July 21 bomb cell that tried to carry out attacks on London’s transport system in 2005.

The Chandlers declined to comment on the arrest when contacted last night.


Somali pirates release Taiwanese vessel after nearly a year

BRUSSELS: Somali pirates on Friday released a Taiwanese vessel along with its crew of 28, ending nearly a year of captivity, the European Union Naval Force: Somalia (EUNAVFOR) said.

EU Naval Force spokesman Paddy O'Kennedy said the Taiwan-flagged fishing vessel FV Tai Yuan 227 is believed to have either been released by pirates or has escaped them. "Although exact details surrounding the situation are not known at this time, there are indications that the Taiwanese flagged fishing vessel Tai Yuan 227 has either been released or has escaped from pirate control," O'Kennedy said.

The Taiwanese vessel was hijacked on May 6, 2010 about 700 nautical miles (1,300 kilometers) northeast of Seychelles, an island country in the Indian Ocean, east of mainland Africa. Most recently, the vessel was suspected of being used as a pirate mothership to hijack other vessels.

"Although direct contact with the crew has not been possible, the vessel's owners apparently received a call from the master stating that they had been released but that they did not know why," O'Kennedy said. "The crew were provided with fresh food and water by a US warship after the release. The vessel is currently heading away from Somalia."

The FV Tai Yuan 227 was carrying a crew of 28 when it was hijacked last year, consisting of nine Chinese, three Vietnamese, three Filipinos, seven Kenyans and two from Mozambique. Their conditions were not immediately known.

Currently, Somali pirates are holding around 30 vessels with a total of more than 700 hostages, according to the European Union Naval Force: Somalia, which keeps a record of pirating incidents. Most hijackings usually end without casualties when a ransom has been paid. This, however, often takes many months.

In recent years, Somali pirates have hijacked hundreds of ships, taking in hundreds of millions of dollars in ransom. Ships are patrolling the shipping lanes near Somalia in an effort to reduce hijackings, but the anti-piracy force has warned that attacks are likely to continue.

According to a recent study, maritime piracy cost the global economy up to $12 billion last year, with Somalia-based pirates responsible for 95 percent of the costs.

Source: BNO News

Friday, January 28, 2011

Recognition of Somaliland Overdue

Ben Farley


Nearly 20 years ago, Somaliland, a Florida-sized region of northeast Somalia once known as British Somaliland, declared its independence from Somalia. In the years since, Somaliland has emerged as a stable, democratic state that provides a measure of international security in a region overrun with pirates and transnational terrorists. Yet, no state or international body recognizes Somaliland's independence. Instead, the international community is content with the fiction that Somalia remains a unified state. Denying Somaliland recognition will likely result in its eventual collapse and the expansion of the chaos, instability and international insecurity that characterizes Somalia. To prevent this eventuality, the United States should grant recognition to Somaliland.

Since declaring its independence in 1991, Somaliland has pursued an indigenous process of transformation from a militarized, post-conflict society governed by traditional clan structures to a representative democracy. Following the ouster of Siad Barre, the longtime dictator of the Democratic Republic of Somalia, a series of conferences of the elders of Somaliland's clans resulted first in Somaliland's declaration of independence, then in a transitional charter establishing a presidency and legislature, and finally in a provisional constitution.* That constitution was approved by 97 percent of votes cast in a Somaliland-wide referendum in 2001. Municipal, presidential and parliamentary elections were held in 2002, 2003 and 2005, respectively. The first presidential election was notable both for its narrow margin -- fewer than 100 votes separated the candidates -- and for its lack of violence. It is also notable because the victor, Dahir Rayale Kahin, is not a member of the dominant clan of Somaliland. Presidential elections scheduled to take place in 2008 were repeatedly delayed until June 2010. That largely peaceful election was judged as meeting international election standards. More importantly, power was transferred peacefully from the incumbent to the victorious opposition candidate, Ahmed Mahmoud Silanyo -- a feat unmatched by any other state in the Horn of Africa.

As Somaliland's democratic institutions have developed, so too have its contributions to international security. In the 1990s, Somaliland successfully disarmed and demilitarized its population. A nascent coast guard now keeps Somaliland's waters free of Somalia-based pirates -- despite the fact that the Gulf of Aden, the Red Sea and the waters off the coast of Somalia are three of the five locations with the highest incidence of pirate attacks in the world. Its police and judicial system have successfully broken up and prosecuted al-Qaida-linked terrorist cells. Recently, Somaliland arrested and prosecuted several Russians transporting guns to Puntland, a Somali region bordering Somaliland, in violation of the U.N. arms embargo on Somalia. Somaliland has even taken custody of transferred Guantanamo detainees.

The contrast with Somalia could not be starker. Somalia has been the subject of at least 16 reconciliation conferences, which have produced multiple interim or transitional governments. Both the United Nations and the African Union have deployed peacekeeping missions there in an effort to restore order, and the international community has expended millions of dollars to that end. In spite of all these efforts, no entity has exercised effective control over Somalia since Barre's ouster 20 years ago. Instead, an al-Qaida-linked militia, al-Shabbab, controls most of Mogadishu and the southern part of the country. Al-Shabbab is already responsible for one transnational terrorist attack -- the Kampala, Uganda, suicide bombings during the World Cup -- and has threatened additional such attacks. Al-Shabbab also reportedly shelters members of al-Qaida. At the same time, pirates based in Somalia ravage international shipping. According to the International Maritime Bureau, attacks attributed to Somalia-based pirates have increased steadily, from 111 in 2008, to 218 in 2009, to 219 in 2010.

Recognizing Somaliland's independence would not violate any international or regional norms governing state creation. State creation through secession is not prohibited in international law. State creation in Africa, however, is limited by the principle -- enshrined in the charter of the African Union -- that the borders inherited at decolonization are inviolable. Independence moves such as Eritrea's recognized secession from Ethiopia and South Sudan's ongoing split from Sudan have only been effected with the assent of the state from which those states have seceded. However, Somaliland is better viewed as the product of the dissolution of the Democratic Republic of Somalia than as a secession.

Dissolution occurs when the central government of a state formed through the merger of separate, independent states, ceases to exert effective control over one or more of those erstwhile independent states. The Somali Republic -- later, the Democratic Republic of Somalia -- was born from the merger of the then-recently decolonized states of British Somaliland and Italian Somalia. Though Somaliland was only an independent state for five days before merging with Italian Somalia, what is important for the purposes of dissolution is that Somaliland was a separate colonial possession from Italian Somalia, and that British Somaliland achieved independence separately from Italian Somalia. The Democratic Republic of Somalia ceased exercising effective control over both Somaliland and what is now Somalia during the civil war that culminated in the ouster of Barre in 1991. While no governing entity has been able to establish effective control over Somalia, Somaliland's government has exercised exclusive, effective control over its territory for nearly 20 years. Importantly, because Somaliland has re-emerged, resuming the boundaries it inherited at decolonization, its independence does not offend the principle that Africa's post-colonial borders are inviolable. In fact, Somaliland's independence restores the frontiers of Somaliland and Somalia to their status at the moment of decolonization.

Recognition of Somaliland will stand as an affirmation of the international community's commitment to democracy. It will also enhance the likelihood of Somaliland's survival and, with it, the contributions it makes to international security. Finally, because Somaliland's independence conforms to current international norms governing state creation, Western states will not set a new precedent justifying widespread African secession by recognizing Somaliland. It is time for the international community, particularly the United States, to to do just that.

Ben Farley is a J.D. candidate at Emory University School of Law and the editor-in-chief of the Emory International Law Review. He has a master's degree in international affairs from the Elliott School of International Affairs at the George Washington University.


SOMALIA: UN seeks wide consultation for post-TFG rule

Consultations on the post-transitional government process in Somalia have started, and will involve all stakeholders and the international community, the Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General to Somalia said.

"There was unanimous agreement, both inside and outside Somalia, that the transitional period has to end in August as envisaged under the Djibouti Peace Agreement,” Augustine Mahiga told a news conference in Nairobi. “In the meantime, consultations are under way to develop a consensus on how to end the transition and on the nature of post-transition political arrangements.”

The term of office of the Somali Transitional Federal Government (TFG) expires in August. “We have less than seven months before the end of the transition, and yet a lot still has to be done. The question we are now asking ourselves is how to end this transitional government,” the envoy added on 26 January. “Without the constitutional process ending in time, we need to look for another way, and that will be a political way.”

A special high-level meeting to review the progress of the peace process in Somalia will take place in Ethiopia during the African Union summit this weekend. It will be convened by the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Jean Ping, chairman of the AU. Other meetings are scheduled for later in the year and will involve Somali civil society.

Mahiga said the TFG itself had come up with a roadmap towards the end of transition.

“We have to tackle civil war, international terrorism, international piracy and human trafficking. We can’t afford another crisis,” he added.

Apart from violence, Somalia is also suffering its worst drought in years and failed rains are devastating half a million lives, according to Oxfam
International focus

The international community has recently expressed growing interest in resolving the Somali question. The UN Security Council has increased support to African peacekeeping efforts and 4,000 Ugandan troops are headed to Mogadishu.

According to Mahiga, a consensus-building process has started within the Transitional Federal Institutions, with ongoing consultations between the TFIs led by the President, the Speaker and the Prime Minister. “It is critical that the consensus-building process ensures that the gains made so far are sustained and entrenched beyond the end of the transition," he said.

In Addis Ababa, civil society representatives called for peace in the war-ravaged country. “We want to see a peaceful Somalia, hunger-free and to stop the killing and turmoil in the country,” Abdullahi Shirwa, chairman of Somali Peace Line, told IRIN.

Apart from violence, Somalia is also suffering its worst drought in years and failed rains are devastating half a million lives, Oxfam warned. Twenty years of conflict, plus the drought, have pushed hundreds of thousands of Somalis beyond their ability to cope, the agency said.

The central and southern regions are suffering the most. Livestock herds have been decimated, forcing destitute pastoralists to migrate to towns and villages in search of aid.

"Drought and hunger are so severe that thousands have fled the relative security of their villages and headed to Mogadishu,” said Zachariah Imeje, programme officer for Oxfam. “They are desperate enough that they will risk the fighting and shelling there to find food.

More than two million people are dependent on humanitarian aid for survival and one in six Somali children suffers acute malnutrition, says the UN.

Source: IRIN News

Somali militant group recruiting Canadian youth

Top Canadian security officials say they have intercepted or intervened in a number of cases involving Canadian youths set to join the Somalia-based militant organization al-Shabaab, but in spite of their efforts many others may have joined the group.

Canadian security officials believe at least 20 Canadian youths have been recruited by al-Shabaab — and that most of those young men have come from the Greater Toronto Area.
Recruit video made in Somalia.

Al-Shabaab is based in Somalia, and believed to have links to al-Qaeda.

Canadian officials claim the group has been so successful at recruiting that it is now considered to be the number 1 threat to Canada's national security.

In an interview with CBC News, Insp. Keith Finn of Canada's Integrated National Security Enforcement Team said that in spite of the successes of intercepting some youths bound for al-Shabaab training camps, there's always concern about those who've slipped through and could eventually return to Canada as trained terrorists.

"The problem is, if they're prepared to act on it, a very small number of people can cause a great deal of damage to Canadians," said Finn.

In a video obtained by CBC News, English-speaking extremists in Somalia are heard urging youths in the West to wage holy war, or jihad.

The recruits are promised power and martyrdom.

"Radicals are whispering in their ears saying, 'You will never get a job in this country. You're not wanted. You're the enemy. You can have 10 degrees, you will never get a chance in this country. So be a man, step up to the plate and join the jihad,'" said Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed.

Abdullahi Mohamed, 36, trained as a fighter for al-Shabaab in Mogadishu but left the organization and returned to Canada in 2009. He had originally come to Canada as a teen, in 1989.

Abdullahi Mohamed now lives and works in Toronto. He says he left al-Shabaab because he never accepted its extremist views. But many young Muslim Torontonians are still joining, he said.

"They are an organization that is recruiting, effectively, young, Western Muslim youth," he said.

In March 2010, the federal government declared al-Shabaab to be a terrorist organization.

In July, al-Shabaab claimed responsibility for bombings in Uganda that killed 74 people.

Abdullahi Mohamed said he fears that unless the federal government reaches out to young Muslims there will be more young men from Canada joining al-Shabaab.

"Help us before they use us. Employ us before they employ us. The ball is in your court federal government. Wake up before the blood is soaked in the streets of Toronto, like it was in London, Stockholm and New York."

Source: CBC

Somalia cancels military training project linked to Blackwater founder

Somalia's government decided on Thursday to cancel an agreement with a private security company linked to the founder of Blackwater Worldwide to train Somali forces to go after pirates and insurgents, a senior official said.

Deputy Security Minister Ibrahim Mohamed Yarow told The Associated Press that the Cabinet, meeting behind closed doors, ended the agreement with Saracen International in a decision he said is "irrevocable."

The AP reported last week that Erik Prince, whose former company Blackwater Worldwide became synonymous with the use of private U.S. security forces running amok in Iraq and Afghanistan, had quietly taken on a new role in the project to train troops in lawless Somalia. Blackwater guards were charged with killing 14 civilians in 2007 in the Iraqi capital.

Yarow said his government, which controls only part of Mogadishu in a country that has seen mostly anarchy for two decades, wanted assistance, but only from companies with distinguished records.

"The Cabinet has today overwhelmingly voted against Saracen International," Yarrow said.

Lafras Luitingh, the chief operating officer of Beirut-registered Saracen International, did not immediately return phone calls or text messages from AP seeking comment.

Yarow said the contract had also envisioned reviving social services in Mogadishu, Somalia's capital which has been heavily damaged by ongoing fighting, including building health facilities.

On Jan. 21, a day after the AP report appeared, U.S. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley told reporters in Washington that the United States was "concerned about the lack of transparency regarding Saracen's funding, its objectives and its scope."

Crowley said the U.S. had made these concerns known to Somali officials.

Luitingh had told AP that his company signed a contract with the Somali government in March. He declined to say then whether Prince was involved in the project and said he was not part of Saracen. But a person familiar with the project and an intelligence report seen by AP said Prince was involved in the multimillion-dollar program financed by several Arab countries, including the United Arab Emirates.

It aimed to mobilize some 2,000 Somali recruits to fight Somali pirates who are terrorizing mariners sailing far off the African coast. The force was also to go after a warlord linked to Islamist insurgents, one official said.

Blackwater gained a notorious reputation in Washington after a series of incidents.

A U.S. federal judge threw out the charges related to the 2007 Baghdad shootings on the grounds that the defendants' constitutional rights were violated. Last year, Iraq's Interior Ministry gave all contractors who had worked with Blackwater at the time of the shooting one week to get out of the country or face arrest for visa violations.

The European Union is training about 2,000 Somali soldiers with U.S. support, and an African Union force of 8,000 Ugandan and Burundian peacekeepers is propping up the government.

Prince, now based in the United Arab Emirates, is no longer with Blackwater, now known as Xe Services. He has stoutly defended the company, telling Vanity Fair magazine that "when it became politically expedient to do so, someone threw me under the bus."

Since the signing of the Saracen contracts, a new Somali government took office and appointed a panel to investigate the deal and others, Minister of Information Abdulkareem Jama said earlier this month.

The U.N. is quietly investigating whether the Somalia projects have broken the blanket embargo on arms supplies to Somali factions.

Source: The Canadian Press

My Voice Somali brings together immigrants and organizations in Beaverton

In Somalia, parents don't talk to their children's teachers. They can't trust the police, and there's nothing resembling a child welfare agency.

When parents have problems with their children, they turn to their community, their elders and family members.

Take that culture, add a different language and some poverty and drop it into the United States -- where even folks who grew up here have trouble navigating the maze of agencies -- and confusion reigns.

My Voice Somalia, a group created by Portland State University student Faduma Ali, helped bring together some of those agencies and about 100 Somalis at the Beaverton School District's Westview High on Wednesday night to help the immigrants and refugees understand who to turn to for help.

It was the first gathering of its kind in the Beaverton area, and it was clear from their questions that the Somali parents are afraid for their children, especially after the arrest of a suspected bomber in Portland in November.

Mohamed Mohamud, a 19-year-old Somali immigrant and a Westview High School graduate, is accused of plotting to set off a van loaded with a massive bomb next to Pioneer Courthouse Square on Nov. 26.

The arrest sent a shudder through the small Somali community in Beaverton and has made parents more aware of keeping tabs on their children and who their kids spend time with.

On Wednesday, they learned who could help them if they have concerns. The panel included Beaverton School District Superintendent Jerry Colonna, Beaverton Mayor Denny Doyle, President of the Bilal Mosque of Beaverton Shahriar Ahmed, Beaverton Police Capt. Eric Oathes, Department of Human Services supervisor David Matz, Luthern Community Services therapist Assefash Melles and Westview High student Mustaf Hirsi.

Each of the speakers tried to ease the divide in cultures, welcoming the Somalis and asking them to become involved in the community.

"We are working to send a message of inclusion and belonging in our community," said Doyle, adding that the city recently has been meeting with Somalis in the community and is working on developing more programs to help them.

Ahmed reminded the Somali families to give back as well and used John F. Kennedy's famous quote, "Ask not what your country can do for you -- ask what you can do for your country."

"Let us become examples of what we can give back," he said. He told them to get involved with their children. Visit the school and get to know their teachers. He offered his help in breaking down the barriers for people.

Beaverton Capt. Oathes offered a similar suggestion: "Understand who their friends are and where they're going because, as a parent, you have the greatest influence on your children."

Matz, from child welfare services, described child abuse and neglect law in Oregon related to leaving kids alone at home and unacceptable types of punishment

One of the highlights of the evening was Hirsi, an obvious role model for any kid. The Westview High senior, who was born in Somalia "when there was no government," plans to get a degree in criminal justice. He also stressed the importance of his countrymen and women getting involved in their new country.

"I'm going to be the first Somali police officer in Oregon," he said, and received some of the loudest applause of the evening.

As the meeting ended, several parents stepped forward to talk with the superintendent, the police officer and mayor -- people they said they would never have considered they had the right to talk to.

"I'm very happy because there was a distance between the communities," said Rahma Ali, as she left the meeting.

Source: Oregon

Increased autism rates baffle Somali-American community in Minneapolis

Last October, Idil Abdull, a Somali parent and founder of the Somali American Autism wanted answers about the disproportionate numbers of Somali American children enrolled in preschool ASD special needs programs.

Somali children were 7 times more likely than non-Somali children to be enrolled in developmental schools that treat autism spectrum disorders.

NIH, the Minnesota Department of Public Health, and Autism Speaks then began to identify ongoing research that may be broadened to determine why the large disparity exists.

Their research will also determine the service needs of children and their families affected by autism spectrum disorders in Minneapolis.

The full study will launch later this year even though the children affected were not necessarily born in the same area. The study's primary purpose is to determine whether there is a true increase in autism rates among Somali children in Minneapolis.

If it is discovered that the Somali autism rates are higher than non-Somalis in the area, then newer studies will be conducted to address whether or not other factors like immigration or nutrition may be responsible for the increase.

Abdul told Minnesota Public Radio that she is motivated to push the study forth and seek action because autism is a terminal disease.

Abdul said it is hard for parents to reconcile the news that their child has been diagnosed with a lifelong disease that has no identifiable or apparent cause.

In 2009, the Minnesota Department of Health released a report confirming higher rates of Somali-American children in special education classes. But the study does not delve into why the rates are higher.

Source: HULIQ

Man who obstructed Somali probe reports to prison

A Minnesota man who lied to FBI agents investigating the travels of young men who may have joined a terror group in Somalia has reported to federal prison to serve his sentence.

Twenty-seven-year-old Abdow Munye Abdow is at the low security prison in Sandstone. He was sentenced in July to four months in prison and four months' home confinement. His attorney, Earl Gray, had asked that he serve the home confinement first because his wife was expecting.

Documents made public Thursday show Abdow reported to authorities Jan. 3.

Abdow is the first person sentenced in the government's investigation into the men who left Minnesota to possibly fight with al-Shabab.

Abdow pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice after lying about a cross-country trip he took with four men, including one on a terror watch list.

Source: The Washington Examiner

Somali Coast: A new Golden Age for Pirates

Evelyn Leopold.
Veteran reporter at the United Nations\

Some 1,500 pirates from Somalia have turned the Indian Ocean and the Gulf of Aden into perilous waters and created a mafia-driven economy in the northeast African country.

In a 56-page report to the Security Council, a U.N. envoy suggested new courts in Somali enclaves as well as in Tanzania along with the construction of jails. There was no immediate agreement but delegates, including US Ambassador Susan Rice, promised to consider the proposals by Jack Lang, a former French culture minister and now a special UN legal advisor on piracy.

"There is a race between the pirates and the rest of the world," Lang said. "These are 1,500 people who are defying the world."
The annual cost is estimated somewhere between $5 billion to $7 billion in captured vessels, local fishing fleets and tourism. In 2010, pirates hijacked a record 53 ships and 1,181 crew members, most of them off the Somalia coast, says the International Maritime Bureau in London. That's a 10 percent increase over 2009.

Piracy arose as a response by local fisherman to illegal fishing by foreign trawlers. Some have attributed an upsurge in to the 2004 tsunami that demolished Somali fishing fleets and washed ashore rusting containers of toxic waste from European vessels.

Bigger vessels and villas

But the lads who hijack foreign vessels are on the low end of the totem pole with their bosses forming a mafia-like operation, Lang told a news conference. The ransom money buys bigger and better vessels with sophisticated navigation and GPS equipment - and pays for villas, perhaps in Dubai or Kenya.

Somalia has been without a functioning central government since the 1991 ouster of dictator Mohamed Siad Barre, leading to a civil war that has still not subsided. Currently the internationally-recognized Transitional Federal Government controls a part of Mogadishu, the capital, while the Islamic Al Shabaab group (which says it wants close ties to Al Qaeda), controls swathes in southern and central Somalia.

Lang, in his report, said some pirates have relocated to areas controlled by Al Shabaab, suggesting "there are ad hoc agreements guaranteeing tranquility" in return for a portion of the ransom money. He said many of the piracy bosses were known and should be hunted down.

All necessary means

The UN Security Council has authorized nations and regional organizations to enter Somalia's territorial waters and use "all necessary means" - including the deployment of naval vessels and military aircraft. They can also seize vessels, arms and equipment used for piracy. But it is not helping. Just this week pirates seized a German cargo ship, owned by Beluga Nomination in Bremen, along with 12 crew in the Indian Ocean. Add that to the 28 ships with more than 600 crew on board the pirates are holding.

Lang said the Somali population was increasingly dependent on piracy, finding it difficult to export camels or sheep to Gulf countries. So people are gradually relying on support from the pirates. "The risk of reaching a point of no return is emerging, with the creation of a veritable mafia, piracy-driven economy," he wrote.

Since most of the pirates are based in the autonomous Puntland region in northeastern Somalia, Lang proposed special courts and jails be established there as well as the neighboring breakaway region of Somaliland. Hundreds of suspects are already in jail there but in poor conditions. The cost would be $25 million over three years.

Another proposal was to set up a court in Arusha, Tanzania, the seat of a UN tribunal for perpetrators of the Rwanda genocide. But Tanzania has not greeted the proposal positively and Kenya, which has held Somalis captured by foreign navies, has declined to try any more, saying its legal system is overloaded.

Britain's UN deputy ambassador, Philip Parham, said Somali courts and prisons were "the best long-term solution." But he said but the Arusha court would be needed for Rwanda trials for "the foreseeable future."

India, which uses the waterways and has thwarted hijacking attempts, wants a tracking of the ransom money to different parts of the world and the prosecution of the "beneficiaries of the ransom money," its UN ambassador, Hardeep Singh Puri, told the Security Council.

What is clear is that there is no quick fix or romantic patches over one eye. But as long as a ransom is paid and impoverished Somalia is in shambles, combating piracy is a matter of hit and miss and depends on fire power of vessels or foreign navies rushing to their protection.

Source: The Huffington, Inc

Number of War-Wounded in Mogadishu Escalates

Photo: AP
Somalis wheel a wounded civilian,at Medina hospital, Mogadishu, Somalia, who was wounded by mortar shrapnel during clashes between Somali insurgents and African Union troops (File Photo).

The International Committee of the Red Cross reports the number of war wounded in the Somali capital Mogadishu last year was the highest in a decade. It says the staff at two ICRC-supported hospitals treated a record number of people caught in the crossfire of opposing forces.

More than 6,000 patients were admitted to Keysaney and Medina hospitals last year. The figure, provided by the International Committee of the Red Cross, compares with 5,000 treated at the Mogadishu hospitals in 2009 and around 2,800 the previous year.

ICRC spokeswoman Nicole Engelbrecht says the number of war wounded in 2010 reached new heights.

“There have been several peaks, but this is a new number and a higher number than in previous years and it looks like it shows a tendency because there is no end in sight to the fighting in Mogadishu," she said. "And the influx to the hospitals of patients with severe wounds does not seem to stop.”

Englebrecht says people arrive at the hospitals even in the middle of the night. And this, she says, could be an indication that the fighting in the city is becoming more frequent and more intense.

She calls this a very worrisome situation. She says the Red Cross is particularly concerned about the large number of civilians injured by weapons. Nearly 40 percent of them are women and children.

She says this large influx of patients is putting a heavy strain on doctors and others who care for the patients.

“They cannot stop and take a break because they constantly have to take care of wounded people and people with severe wounds," said Englebrecht. "That is also another problem-with head injuries or bullet wounds. So, it is very difficult to cope with this situation in the hospitals of Mogadishu at this moment.”

Englebrecht says hospital personnel treat all patients equally, regardless of their clan and religious or political backgrounds.

She says the decision on who gets treated first is based on the severity of the wound and the urgency of the case.

She says based on the figures of war wounded, it appears the fighting will continue and the number of war wounded will continue to escalate.

More than a million people are thought to have died since Somalia descended into civil war 20 years ago.

Source: VOANews

Thursday, January 27, 2011

YEMEN: Somali refugees hope for better life beyond Kharaz camp

Every year tens of thousands of Somalis risk their lives crossing the Gulf of Aden to reach Yemen in their search for safety and a better life. Many die atrocious deaths - beaten, thrown overboard, eaten by sharks, drowned or asphyxiated in the hold of crowded smuggler boats.

Most Somalis who make it to Yemen simply disperse on their own, either making their way to the capital, Sanaa, or other urban areas like Basateen shanty town in Aden. But thousands of others end up in Kharaz refugee camp, a derelict military barracks on a dusty, scorching hot plateau in Lahj Governorate about two hours’ drive west of Aden.

Many of the refugees in Kharaz are marooned there, unable to go back to their insecure homelands or to find work in Yemen.

Like most refugee camps, Kharaz was meant to be a temporary solution, a place where the basic needs of Somali refugees could be met until the violence in Somalia died down, allowing them to return home. But with tribal violence still raging in Somalia and tens of thousands of African migrants arriving on Yemen’s shores ever year, the population of Kharaz camp continues to grow.

A burning question now faces those living and working in the camp. What next?

“A second generation of Somalis is on the rise; children born here are now reaching adulthood and know of little else outside of camp life,” Gawad Mohamed, a refugee education programme officer from Save the Children, told IRIN.

“The civil war in Somalia has been raging for two decades now. We have to think seriously about the future lives of these children which will most likely be spent here in Yemen.”

Few job opportunities

Kharaz shelters 14,000 refugees in cinderblock huts. There are schools, clinics and food rations, but no jobs.

Residents at Kharaz - like all Somali refugees in Yemen - are entitled to work. Some of those who leave the camp during the summer months (when temperatures can rise to 50 degrees Celsius) may find casual work, but many resort to begging for food once they reach the cities.

“My three boys work as car washers or beg, and my two girls work for nearly nothing as maids in Yemeni houses,” Suleiman Ibrahim, a resident at Kharaz camp, told IRIN.

Those unable to afford the YR700 (US$6) bus ride to Aden end up languishing in the camp, enduring the dry desert wind and the monotony and dependency of institutional life.

“What the resident refugees - especially the younger generation - miss the most is the opportunity to get proper education and a job, to support themselves and to move out of camps and into independent living,” Kristalina Georgieva, the European Commissioner for International Cooperation, Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Response, who recently visited Kharaz camp, told IRIN.

“For such opportunity to flourish, Yemen needs two things - first, peace, and second, economic prospects. This would improve life not only for the refugees of Kharaz and other camps, but also for Yemenis themselves.”

Yemen is the poorest country in the Arab world and with an unemployment rate of 35 percent it cannot offer much more than hospitality and safety to the refugees. Yemenis and Somalis alike are competing for already limited opportunities.


Flanked by mountains and barren desert, Kharaz camp is both geographically and demographically isolated. For those living here, assimilating and participating in Yemeni society is not always easy.

The Somali people living here are secluded. Apart from the occasional trip to Aden there is not much interaction with the outside world
“The Somali people living here are secluded. Apart from the occasional trip to Aden there is not much interaction with the outside world. It’s easier for those [refugees] living in Aden,” said Sidewa Yacub, leader of Kharaz camp’s educational committee.

Until 2003, the curriculum in the camp’s primary school was taught entirely in Somali, a language incomprehensible to most of Yemen’s Arabic speakers.

The transition from Somali to Arabic has been tough at times; according to Ismail Abubakr Ahmed, headmaster of the camp’s primary school. Some of the students still refuse to speak in Arabic.

“It’s not only the language but the culture of learning which differs in Yemen. We have had to learn to be flexible in our approach,” Ahmed told IRIN.

“But it is now our duty to prepare these children for secondary school where they are expected to learn in Arabic.”

DAFI scholarships

But not all Kharaz children are destined for a life of cheap labour.

Despite spending most of his childhood in Kharaz camp and learning in classes of up to 60 students, Abdurahman Fareh, 26, from Mogadishu, has recently graduated with a degree in Business Administration from Aden University and is now working for Save the Children.

In Yemen, Somali refugees are subject to the same university fees as other foreign students living in the country, which can cost up to $1,200 a year.

But Abdurahman was lucky. He chanced upon a DAFI scholarship, a programme funded by the German government and coordinated in Yemen by the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and Save the Children which supports tertiary education for deserving refugees worldwide.

“I started a new life when I received that scholarship. I’m now working to support the refugee community that I came from,” Abdurahman told IRIN.

Last year 60 Somali students received DAFI scholarships to study at universities in Yemen, costing at a total of $145,641.

Basateen - an alternative approach?

The Basateen slum - a shanty town on the outskirts of Aden - is more squalid than Kharaz, but Somalis there are less isolated and can at least seek casual work in Aden.

Somali girls practice their English in the primary school at Kharaz Camp.In a few years some of them will be sent by their parents to work as house maids or beg on the streets of Aden

UNHCR and its partner agencies working with Somali tribal elders do their best to combat social stresses in Basateen with micro-credits and self-reliance projects that help some women feed their children, even when their husbands have vanished.

But some are overwhelmed and even ask to return to Kharaz where they can get UN assistance. All need relief from the penury that fuels domestic violence and sometimes commercial sex work.

"Sometimes young girls come to Yemen dreaming of a better life or of going to Saudi Arabia," said Aisha Said, a UNHCR social worker. "If they fail, maybe they do this prostitution or survival sex, but I can't tell you how many do it."

“It is our ambition that Kharaz and other camps like it are not established as a long-term solution. But for the time being Kharaz offers a solution to cover the essential basic needs: here refugees can at least find shelter, food and clean water,” said the commissioner.

“Up to 50,000 new refugees arrive in Yemen every year. We should therefore work to improve the camps, and to turn them into a starting point for refugees to move towards a better future - integration in urban areas, and access to schools and jobs.”

Source: IRIN News

UPDATE 1-Somali pirates seize German ship off Seychelles

* Pirates hold 12 crew hostage, heading for Somalia
* Owners appeal for naval assistance, complain of delays

By Brian Rohan

A German shipping line appealed for naval intervention on Tuesday after Somali pirates seized a cargo ship and its 12 crew off the Seychelles on Saturday.

The owners of the Beluga Nomination voiced frustration that no military help had reached the 12-man crew during the first two days of their ordeal, when they had taken refuge in a secure "citadel". The pirates were now in full control of the vessel.

"Military assistance is badly required," Bremen-based Beluga Shipping GmbH said in a statement, adding that the ship was now heading west toward Somalia. The crew comprises a Polish captain and seven Filipino, two Russian and two Ukrainian seamen.

"We are somewhat irritated," Beluga chief executive Niels Stolberg said. "Why, within 2-1/2 days during which the crew had hidden from the pirates in the citadel, could no external help be offered?"

The Beluga Nomination was boarded about 800 miles off the Seychelles, far from the areas where pirates mainly operate.

A distress call was sent to the European Union's anti-piracy naval mission in the Indian Ocean, Beluga said. No help arrived.

Poor weather prevented Seychelles coastguards from reaching the ship. Images from a plane which flew over the vessel indicated the pirates had taken over the crew's safe area. According the website, the Beluga Nomination is 9,775 dead weight tonnes and flies the flag of Antigua and Barbuda.

Somali pirates are making tens of millions of dollars in ransoms from seizing ships, including tankers and dry bulkers, in the Indian Ocean and the Gulf of Aden, despite the efforts of foreign navies to clamp down on such attacks.

A report this month said piracy worldwide was costing the global economy $7-12 billion a year, with Somali sea-bandits in particular driving up the cost of shipping in the Indian Ocean.

(Reporting by Brian Rohan; Editing by Alastair Macdonald)

Source: Reuters

US warns of possible February attacks by al-Qaida-linked Somali extremists in Burundi, Uganda

The United States is warning Americans of the potential for terrorist attacks in the east African nations of Burundi and Uganda next month, possibly by Somali extremists with links to al-Qaida.

The U.S. embassies in Bujumbura, in Burundi, and Kampala, in Uganda, issued near identical alerts to Americans on Tuesday. The warnings say that regional terror groups remain actively interested in attacking U.S. interests in Burundi and Uganda.

The notices name the Somalia-based al-Shabab as a threat during February. Neither alert was more specific.

Burundi and Uganda are the main troop contributors to the African Union peacekeeping mission in Somalia. The peacekeepers are trying to support the weak Somali government in its fight against al-Shabab.

Al-Shabab has claimed responsibility for numerous attacks in Somalia and co-ordinated bombings in Uganda.

Source: The Canadian Press

UN and African Union to Convene High-Level Meeting on Somali Peace Process .

The United Nations and the African Union will hold a high-level meeting in a few days to review efforts to achieve peace, security and reconciliation in strife-torn Somalia, which has been suffering through two decades of conflict and numerous humanitarian challenges.

The meeting will be held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on the sidelines of the African Union Summit which opened today, and will be jointly convened by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Jean Ping, Chairman of the AU Commission.

Mr. Ban’s Special Representative for Somalia, Augustine P. Mahiga, noted that the meeting comes at a very crucial juncture, given that, under the Transitional Federal Charter, the interim authority’s mandate is set to expire in August.

“We have less than seven months before the end of the transition, and yet a lot still has to be done,” he stated in a news release issued by the UN Political Office for Somalia (UNPOS).

Several tasks remain to be completed such as continuing initiatives on reconciliation, building civilian and security institutions and the completion of the constitution-making process.

Mr. Mahiga announced that the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) – which is supported by a UN-backed AU peacekeeping force, known as AMISOM – has come up with a road map, outlining priority tasks which it will have to achieve towards the end of the transition.

“There was unanimous agreement, both inside and outside Somalia, that the transitional period has to end in August as envisaged under the Djibouti Peace Agreement,” he said, referring to the UN-facilitated peace process that began in 2008.

“In the meantime, consultations are underway to develop a consensus on how to end the transition and on the nature of post-transition political arrangements,” he added.

Somalia – which has not had a functioning central government since 1991 – has been torn apart by decades of conflict and factional strife, more recently with al-Shabaab Islamic militants. The country is also facing a dire humanitarian crisis in which 3.2 million people, more than 40 per cent of the population, is in need of aid.

Mr. Mahiga called for internal consultations among the Somalis themselves to build consensus on the way forward.

“It is critical that the consensus-building process ensures that the gains made so far are sustained and entrenched beyond the end of the transition,” he stated. “After two decades of suffering, the time has come for Somalia to return to a nation in which its citizens are allowed the opportunity to live a fruitful life in peace and security.”


Omaha Housing Authority(OHA): Somali Residents Complain Of Harassment, Violence

Some residents at 27th and T streets are having problems that range from harassment to physical violence. It’s been going on for some time and residents want it to stop.

Southside Terrace is one of the last and largest housing projects in the city and there is trouble there. Somali residents are protesting, saying the violence they have to deal with has just become too much.

"People getting beat up every day right in front of their house when they didn't do anything to nobody while they try to go to work, they're having problems going to work,” said one resident. “I think this is something like a hate crime, something like that.”

“We having a lot of problems about gangs, people here, they're in a gang and stuff and they keep on beating us,” said resident Makai Adan.

City Councilman Ben Gray is also an OHA commissioner and is helping to solve the problem. He says the Somalis have called authorities, but there is a problem with communication.

“The language problem and understanding how things work were the problems with authority,” said Gray. “The harassment, that's just people being mean spirited.”

Gray understands why people are protesting. He called a meeting Tuesday and explained that the problems will be solved though dialogue and better understanding.

"If we have residents within our property having confusion, we know what to do with that and we will do that post haste if they live in District 2. We will enforce the nuisance ordinance and we will get after those people making things difficult. If there are misunderstandings, we will try to fix them.”

Gray said these things will take time to fix, but he adds there will be peace at Southside Terrace. Gray said there will be another meeting with the OHA residents on Wednesday. Members of the Omaha Police Department and City Council will be there.


Oxfam: Somali Drought Could Be as Serious as 1992

Below average rainfall in Somalia has pushed nearly 500,000 people to the brink of starvation. International aid-group Oxfam is warning that more will be affected unless immediate action is taken.

Somalia is in desperate need of aid, says British-based Oxfam International. Reports indicate decreased rainfall in the arid region, and the situation is critical in areas such as Gedo and Juba.

The aid group reports that 25 percent of people in the Gedo region and nearly 30 percent in the Juba region are malnourished due to crop failure and the death of livestock. The group also worries the death of livestock will promote raiding and violence as the crisis deepens.

According to Oxfam Humanitarian Programs representative Peter Kamalingin, the international community does not realize how serious the situation is becoming.

"The crisis is big, it is probably something that is similar to or worse than what we saw in 1992," added Kamalingin. "The rains for October to December period were low and there is the likelihood that the next rains, if they come, will be towards the end of March or April. So you have, actually, a period of six months low rain, and for Somalia that is serious."

Oxfam reports that some areas in central and southern Somalia have received less than 15 percent of their typical rainfall in recent months.

An estimated two million people are living off food aid in Somalia and as the drought continues that number is likely to rise. Speaking at the United Nations earlier this month, Somali Prime Minister Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed warned that 2.5 million people were on the verge of starvation unless given immediate support

There have been relatively few reported deaths as a result of the situation. But Oxfam's Kamalingin says the crisis is far from over.

"The worst of it is yet to come, and that is where the fear is," added Kamalingin. "We know that so far there have been deaths of livestock. We know that in some parts there have already been reports of limited deaths, not yet as bad. But if you consider that this is still January and the next rains are only expected in March, I think the next two months are going to be serious."

For those in the south, their only reprieve maybe the war-torn capital, Mogadishu. The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees recently estimated as many as 12,000 people had recently arrived on the outskirts of the Somali capital in search of food and water.

SourceL VOA News

Somali govt must respect August end of mandate: UN

The United Nations acknowledged on Wednesday that Somalia would miss an August deadline to adopt a new constitution and hold the first elections in the Horn of Africa nation for decades.

Under the terms of a 2009 deal, the mandate of Somalia's Transitional Federal Government (TFG) expires on August 20, by which time it should have enacted a new basic law and held a general election.

But a raging insurgency has seen the government do little more than battle for survival, while tens of thousands of civilians have been killed over the past four years.

There have been calls from some parts of the government for its term to be extended. Augustine Mahiga, the U.N.'s special representative for Somalia, said this was not an option and talks were needed on what shape the next government takes.

"The constitutional process should have been our ideal path but ... we don't want a half-baked document to define the destiny of Somalis," he told a news conference in the Kenyan capital Nairobi.

"We are all agreed this (interim administration) has to end."

With al Shabaab militants controlling huge chunks of central and southern Somalia, as well as half the capital Mogadishu, it had been impossible to consult the population on the draft document, Mahiga said.

He said U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon would convene a special meeting on the sidelines of this weekend's African Union summit in Addis Ababa to discuss Somalia.

The United Nations would then convene a summit in Nairobi, inviting TFG leaders, officials from the semi-autonomous Puntland region and breakaway enclave of Somaliland, and the international community to thrash out a way forward.

The next administration would have to be more inclusive, Mahiga said, urging President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed, himself a former Islamist rebel, to open government's doors to moderates within the two main rebel factions.

"The political outreach and reconciliation must proceed. There are nationalists who are there (within al Shabaab) ... but this is up to government who they talk to," said Mahiga.

Political analysts say al Shabaab is split between a nationalist element fighting to topple the Western-backed government and more extreme jihadists bent on wreaking havoc across the region.

Up to a million people have been killed by fighting, famine and disease in the 20 years that Somalia has lacked an effective central government, according to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).

Mogadishu's two main referral hospitals treated more than 6,000 war-wounded in 2010, 20 percent higher than the previous year, with women and children making up a third of those caught up in gun battles, artillery fire and landmine explosions.

Mahiga said the 4,000 additional African Union peacekeepers approved by the U.N. Security Council last month would not deploy until March or April at the earliest, bringing the AMISOM force to 12,000 troops.

Critics say without elections, the next administration will just be Somalia's 16th transitional government since 1991.

"The alternative is to roll over, said Mahiga. "We want something that is different ... something that is more inclusive."

Source: Reuters

Photos from the archive: Somalis mark 20 years of war after government fell

Mish Whalen writes:From the Associated Press: Wednesday Jan. 26, 2011 marks the twentieth anniversary of the fall of Siad Barre, Somalia's socialist dictator whose overthrow ushered in years of brutal conflict. Now the arid Horn of Africa nation is home to a whole generation who have known nothing but war fed by corruption, clan politics and regional rivalries.

Click here: Photos from the archive

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Somali gov't launches new weekly newspaper for peace, tolerance

The Somali government has launched a new weekly newspaper as part of its drive to counter Islamist propaganda and spread its message of "peace and tolerance" to the people, an official said Monday.

The newspaper, called Dalka, a Somali word meaning "the country", had its first issue published and distributed this week.

"We are launching this newspaper to because we want to reach out our people with a message of peace and tolerance," Mohamed Ibrahim Fanah of the Somali Ministry of Information told Xinhua.

The official said the government aims to reach every Somali citizen through all the modern media of communication noting that the government already operates the state-run radio Mogadishu, "recognized as the most widely listened to station in Mogadishu."

Fanah said the government's radio station also runs a website that webcasts live streaming of the radio broadcasts to Somalis all over the world. The site also gives multimedia updates of news about the east African country.

He added that the Somali government, with its meager resources plans to open a TV station "in the near future," saying all the necessary equipment was made ready and that staff were undergoing training for the job.

Islamist groups fighting against the government run almost a couple of radio stations in Mogadishu and almost one in each of major towns they control in the south and center of the war torn nation.

The stations broadcast daily updates on the groups fighting against the weak but international recognized government and urge youths to take part in what they term the holy war against the government forces and African union peacekeepers based in Mogadishu as a religious obligation.

Religious sermons promoting the groups radical view points and vocal-only Arabic war songs known as "annasheed" are broadcast daily.

The extremist Islamist group of Al Shabaab, which imposed strict rules on media operating in areas under their control, took over two radio stations in Mogadishu and converted them into an Islamist mouthpiece.

The Islamists last year banned other stations from playing music on air saying it was "unIslamic". Although most radio stations complied with the edict, Radio Shabelle, a major independent station in Mogadishu as well as the state run Radio Mogadishu dismissed the order and continued to play local and international music on air.

Source: Xinhua


As Somalia approaches the anniversary of two war-torn decades without a functioning national government, the United Nations today called on the international community to step up its aid to build on humanitarian gains eked out amidst the country's struggles.

Despite the years of conflict with clans and Islamist fundamentalist militias, many development indicators have improved since 1991, when the government of Muhammad Siad Barre was overthrown, as the UN and local partners have increased support for the provision of essential social services to vulnerable communities.

"Progress is possible even in these difficult circumstances," the UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Somalia, Mark Bowden said. "Across the country, increasing numbers of children are enrolling in schools, health clinics are opening, and the economy led by the agricultural, banking and telecom sectors is growing rapidly.

"While indicators of Somali welfare remain low, they have shown a marked improvement since 1991 despite continuing conflict. Life expectancy has grown, access to health facilities has almost doubled, infant mortality has dropped and extreme poverty has plummeted."

UN-backed immunization campaigns have kept Somalia polio-free since 2007 and the incidence of malaria has been reduced by 57 per cent between 2005 and 2009. In the last three years, the UN, along with local partners, has also scaled-up nutrition services by over 300 per cent for the treatment of acute malnutrition among the most affected infants.

But despite significant signs of progress, the humanitarian official noted, much more needs to be done.

"The Somali people need our support more than ever," Mr. Bowden said. "The international community must step up its support to the people of Somalia if we are to protect the gains we have made and prevent many more people from slipping into crisis."

Large swathes of Somalia remain in the grip of conflict resulting in a dire humanitarian situation for over two million people. Last month, the UN warned that a predicted drought is likely to push many more people into crisis. Hundreds of thousands of people have been driven from their homes.

Somalia's Transitional Federal Government (TFG), supported by a UN-backed African Union peacekeeping force, known as AMISOM, is based in Mogadishu, the capital, while the Islamist militant Islamist group Al Shabaab and other such groups control much of the country, especially in the south.

Earlier this month, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called on the international community to provide urgent military and other support to the TFG to stop "foreign fighters and other spoilers" turning the region into the next stronghold of international terrorism. In December, the Security Council approved a 50 per cent increase in AMISOM to 12,000 troops.

"Somalia is one of the world's most intractable crises," Mr. Bowden said. "As we reflect on the tragic consequences of two decades of conflict, let us reaffirm our commitment to building a lasting peace which matches the resilience of millions of Somali people who continue to work towards a better future."

This week, the UN will launch a five year development plan for the country called the UN Assistance Strategy for Somalia, which will set out the humanitarian, recovery and development objectives to increase availability of essential social services, provide livelihood opportunities and build government institutions capable of providing security and justice for all.

Source: UN News Centre at