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Saturday, April 30, 2011

Syrian army attacks mosque, killing

Syrian army troops backed by tanks and three helicopters on Saturday took a prominent mosque that had been controlled by residents in a besieged southern city killing four people, a witness said.

The operation in the town of Daraa came a day after President Bashar Assad unleashed deadly force to crush a months-old revolt, killing at least 65 people, mostly in the border town.

Daraa resident Abdullah Abazeid said the assault on the mosque lasted 90 minutes during which troops used tank shells and heavy machine guns. Three helicopters took part of the operation dropping paratroopers on to the mosque itself, he said.

The Omari mosque, in Daraa's Roman-era old town, had been under the control of the residents.

Daraa is the heart of a six-week-old uprising against the government and has been under siege since Monday when the government first sent in tanks to crush the daily demonstrations.

Abazeid said that among the dead was Osama Ahmad, the son of the mosque's imam, Sheik Ahmad Sayasna. The other three were a woman and her two daughters who were killed when a tank shell hit their home near the mosque, he said.

In the early hours of the morning, military reinforcements poured into Daraa, including 20 armored personnel carriers, four tanks, and a military ambulance, a resident of the city told The Associated Press.

Uprising has cost 535 their lives
The head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, Rami Abdul-Rahman, said 65 people were killed Friday. with 36 deaths in the Daraa province, 27 in the central Homs region, one in Latakia and another in the Damascus countryside. Total civilian deaths since the uprising began has reached 535, he said.

The latest deaths came as the United States slapped three top officials in Assad's regime — including his brother — with sanctions and nations agreed to launch a U.N.-led investigation of Syria's crackdown.

An activist said authorities have asked families of some of those killed Friday to hold small funerals attended by family members only. Similar orders were given last week but most people did not abide by them, the activist added.

The move appeared to be an attempt by authorities to avoid more bloodshed, with funerals in the past weeks turned into demonstrations.

A devastating picture is emerging of Daraa — which has been without electricity, water and telephones since Monday — as residents flee across the border. The uprising began in Daraa in mid-March, sparked by the arrest of teenagers who scrawled anti-regime graffiti on a wall.

Sounds of sporadic gunfire were heard in the city Saturday, mainly from the city center area, another Daraa witness said.

He said for the past week, troops had been allowing women to go out to buy bread, but on Saturday they were stopped.

In the coastal city of Banias, a resident said armed forces had withdrawn from the city center after taking up positions there earlier in the month.

The witnesses' accounts could not be independently verified. All spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of government reprisal.

Syria has banned nearly all foreign media and restricted access to trouble spots, making it almost impossible to verify the dramatic events shaking one of the most authoritarian regimes in the Arab world.

Large demonstrations were reported Friday in the capital of Damascus, the central city of Homs, the coastal cities of Banias and Latakia, the northern cities of Raqqa and Hama, and the northeastern town of Qamishli near the Turkish border.

Syrian TV said Friday that military and police forces came under attack by "armed terrorists" in Daraa and Homs, killing four soldiers and three police officers. Two soldiers were captured but were later rescued by the army, state TV said. The station also said one of its cameramen was injured in Latakia by an armed gang.

The Obama administration hit three top Syrian officials as well as Syria's intelligence agency and Iran's Revolutionary Guard with sanctions over the crackdown.

Syria's nuclear history under fire
Meanwhile, diplomats say the U.N.'s nuclear watchdog agency is setting the stage for potential U.N. Security Council action on Syria as it prepares a report assessing that a Syrian target bombed by Israeli warplanes in 2007 was likely a secretly built nuclear reactor meant to produce plutonium.

Also Friday, nations agreed to launch a U.N.-led investigation of Syria's crackdown, demanding that Damascus halt the violence, release political prisoners and lift media restrictions.

The Geneva-based Human Rights Council said it would ask the U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to send a mission to investigate "all alleged violations of international human rights law and to establish the facts and circumstances of such violations and of the crimes perpetrated."

U.N. officials said the killings may include crimes against humanity.

Source: The Associated Press

Somali Pirates Target India Seafarers

Written by Siddharth Srivastava

Pirates demand release of their mates by Indian authorities

Indian sailors have become specific targets of Somali pirates due to the Indian Navy's strong response to a problem that has assumed alarming proportions, making Indian seafarers wary of operating ships that pass through waters frequented by Somalia pirates in the Arabian Sea and northwestern Indian Ocean, a major trade transit area.

The Indian Navy has responded aggressively to pirate attacks, capturing 61 at one go in March. The pirates had been living on a hijacked ship about 1,000 km off the Indian coast. As a result, the pirates have targeted Indian seamen. Freed or rescued seamen say they have been tortured mercilessly. India's seafaring community is estimated at over 100,000, forming 6 percent of the global merchant mariners.

Matters have come to a head recently after Somali pirates refused to release seven members of a 15-man crew aboard MV Asphalt Venture that was captured in September 2010. This is even after being paid a huge multi-million ransom.

Instead, the pirates, via a statement released to the media, say they declared a "war on India." In an audacious move they have demanded that New Delhi release over 100 pirates captured by the Indian Navy in exchange of the lives of the Indians in their custody.

The pirates have also started coming closer to Indian shores, hundreds of miles from their African coastal base. The closest Somali pirate attack to the Indian mainland was on Jan. 28 when a container ship was approached by pirates in two speedboats around 65 nautical miles north of Minicoy Island, or about 400km west of Cochin (Kerala). The Indian coast guard responded to the mayday and sent an aircraft. A previously hijacked fishing vessel acting as a mother vessel was spotted in the vicinity.

However, the real possibility of "war" seems remote, according to a Hong Kong-based security consultant who deals with anti-piracy issues. As long ago as April of 2009 the pirates declared war on Americans after sharpshooters killed three pirates and captured a fourth after an abortive attack on a US freighter, but the war has never come off.

Both Malaysia and South Korea have also toughened their stance against piracy, with seven Somalis charged in a Kuala Lumpur court with piracy, which could result in the hanging of the adult members of the gang. South Korea also recently arrested five Somalis with the intention of putting them on trial in Korea.

"One possible reason why these threats are not carried out in cold blood – most killings have occurred during rescue attempts – is the pirates' recognition that any systematic murder of captured seafarers would be labeled terrorism by the international community (probably the UN)," the security consultant told Asia Sentinel. "This could quickly end the present lucrative ransom business as it is illegal to make any payments to terrorist groups."

Nonetheless, in India the latest hostage situation is being compared to the emotionally charged scenario created by Lashkar-e-Toiba terrorists who hijacked an Indian Airlines jetliner in 1999 to demand release of captured militants in Indian jails.

New Delhi capitulated. Earlier this year, in the absence of an official and clear hostage policy, authorities released key leftist rebels in the state of Orissa, in exchange of an abducted officer.

Meanwhile, relatives of the Indian crew on board hijacked or missing vessels have been urging the government to act and the matter has been raised in Parliament at their insistence. On the basis of petitions filed by affected family members, India's apex Supreme Court has also mandated New Delhi take action.

With emotions running high, India will need to get its act together.

It is estimated that Somali pirates are holding nearly 600 crew members captive out of which 50 are Indians. Such is the fear now that it has affected Indian trade in the region.

Indian coal imports from South Africa are now being diverted to longer routes even as buyers are opting for purchase of the critical fuel from Australia and Russia to totally avoid the Indian Ocean.
Ironically, the targeted attack on Indian sea farers has been due to a strong response by New Delhi to take on the pirates.

From October 2008, New Delhi stationed an Indian warship at the Gulf of Aden to assist Indian-flagged merchant vessels. Ships from other nations have also been protected by the Indian presence. Indian anti-piracy patrols have also been deployed around the Maldives, Seychelles, and Mauritius, at the request of these governments.

Joint actions by the Indian Navy and Coast Guard have prevented as many as 29 hijacking attempts and neutralized three "mother-ships" (used by the pirates), the Vega 5 in March 2011. India was also instrumental in the successful passage of the United Nations Security Council's anti-piracy resolution.

New Delhi has now has a bigger job in hand to tackle the latest situation arising out escalated Somali piracy that is showing every sign of worsening.

The country has persistently refused to initiate any form of special force action to "hot pursuit" the pirates into their bases. The response has been more "passive" in nature with pre-emption and prevention being the motto, like it has been for terrorist suspected to be holed up in Pakistan or Bangladesh.

Yet, there is urgent need for coordinated action among several affected countries and their Navies. The Kuala Lumpur based International Maritime Bureau (IMB) has said that 97 out of the 142 maritime and trade related attacks this year have been by Somali pirates. This year the number of attacks is three times last year.

Highlighting the raised cruelty factor, in 2006 only two crew members in total were injured, this year seven seamen have already been killed and 34 seriously injured. IMB has said: "Figures for piracy and armed robbery at sea in the past three months are higher than we have ever recorded in the first quarter of any past year."

"Given the amounts they have made recently, I would anticipate ever-better armed and trained pirate crews at the top end and proliferation of wannabes at the lower end," J Peter Pham, Africa director with US think tank the Atlantic Council, has been quoted to say.

Taking note of the situation and clearly indicating that it is only joint action by nations that can root out the problem, as in the case of terrorism, federal Indian defense minister A K Antony has said, "Piracy in the high seas is becoming a serious problem. The Indian Navy is in touch with other navies on this, since piracy occurs in the IOR, especially in Somalian waters and other areas."

In an assessment, the National Maritime Foundation, Delhi has said: "the lives of Indian hostages will have to be given due importance. Apart from staying the course in its present anti-piracy policies, a multi-disciplinary task force that includes all the principal stake-holders is urgently called for."

Siddharth Srivastava is a New Delhi-based journalist. He can be reached at sidsri@yahoo.com

Source: The Asia Sentinel

Somali pirates have been holding a Sudanese ship carrying equipment for the White Nile Sugar Company

For more than two weeks and that authorities are exerting considerable efforts to free the ship to ensure the equipment on board arrives in so that the company is able to enter production next season, the Minister of industry Dr. Awad Al-Jaz revealed.

Al-Jaz said the While Nile Sugar Company is perceived of as the biggest company in Sudan, especially designed to be biggest producer to contribute to supplying sugar to meet local demand as well as exporting surplus.

Speaking at a radio show yesterday the Minister affirmed increase in sugar price has been caused by storing and smuggle; besides rocketing international prices. He said the responsibility of the government was to provide this commodity either through production or import; however he assured that the commodity is available in the market, but urged all to contribute to delivering sugar to the people at SDG152, a price set by the government. Al-Jaz predicted that next year’s sugar production would be better than previous years.

The Minister called on traders not to exploit liberation policies adopted by the state. He warned that there were mechanisms set by the attorney general for consumers and national economy to discover those exploiters, adding the government is looking for “sugar mafia” to advice them and bring them to their senses.

He said the government resorted to 5-10kilo small packages to fight storing and smuggling operations. Al-Jaz attributed the growing demand for sugar to use of sugar in various industries.

The Minister dealt with efforts underway to establishing new sugar companies so that the country become a sugar producing belt for many neighboring states. Work is underway at companies such as Gifa, Sennar West, Kenana 2; besides working for the promotion and rehabilitation of existing companies in Sudan.

Al-Jaz admitted that all government owned textile companies are not functioning now and that efforts are ongoing to re-operate them, particularly after the government has imported modern machines, some are being installed in a number of textile companies in Sudan.

Source: The Sudan Vision Daily

NATO NAVIES GO CRAZY IN SOMALI WATERS

After it has now transpired that a meanwhile clearly identified navy under NATO command actually fired the first shot in the incident involving a pirated Iranian fishing vessel directly at the coast of Somalia (within the 12nm zone, within the 200nm territorial waters of Somalia and within the 200nm EEZ), killing five and injuring eight with other Somalis as well as 10 Iranian and 4 Pakistani crew-members surviving, it has now transpired that already the next incident has to be reported where NATO warships again seriously endangered the life of hostages.

On Easter-Sunday, 24. April 2011, US warship, USS Stephen W. Groves, operating as part of NATO’s counter piracy mission - Operation Ocean Shield - and being part of the Standing NATO Maritime Group 2 (SNMG2), fired upon and destroyed two unmanned pirate skiffs.

So far so good - naval shoot-ups as usual and liked by bored but trigger-happy mariners - many will think, but the two skiffs were towed behind seized Taiwanese fishing vessel FV JIH CHUN TSAI 68 with four remaining hostages (the Taiwanese captain along with two Chinese and one Indonesian sailor), which itself was tethered to the freshly pirated MV ROSALIA D'AMATO, the Italian-owned 74,500 dwt bulk-carrier with 15 Filipino and 6 Italian seamen as hostages.

After being questioned, NATO presents the incident with the following spin:

Operating approximately 100 miles off the coast of Somalia, the NATO warship had successfully intercepted two pirated motor vessels - MV Zirku and MV Rosalia D’amato, and followed the vessels as they headed towards the Somali coast.
The pirated mothership Jih Chun Tsai 68 was tethered to the Rosalia D’Amato and two skiffs were also being towed behind. The NATO warship ordered the pirates to cut loose the mother ship and skiffs. As the pirates did not comply, warning shots were fired, and when they too were ignored, the unmanned skiffs were destroyed. Later, as the USS Stephen Groves moved in closer to the MV Rosalia D’Amato the pirates opened fired on the naval vessel. After returning fire to defend itself, the warship opened to a distance in order to de-escalate the situation and not endanger the innocent hostages on board the pirated ships.
It seems that the U.S.American naval command has learned nothing from the deadly incident on the SY QUEST, where four American hostages were slain in a botched rescue operation. Now they endanger hostages of other nations too.

The flagship and thereby command for Standing NATO Maritime Group 2 (SNMG2) under which USS STEPHEN W GROVES sails is the Dutch HNLMS TROMP from the Netherlands. The present commander of NATO‟s counter piracy operation, Ocean Shield, is one Commodore Michiel Hijmans (Royal Netherlands Navy).

Any judge of sober mind in any jurisdiction the world over will clearly find that this NATO/U.S.American naval stint seriously - and without any chance to achieve anything positive - endangered all the hostages.

While trying to get information if the U.S.American naval attack against this pirated convoy with together 25 hostages plus the 29 hostages (1 Croatian, 1 Iraqi, 1 Filipino, 1 Indian, 3 Jordanians, 3 Egyptians, 2 Ukrainians and 17 Pakistanis) on the nearby MV ZIRKU was authorized by the vessel owner and/or the Italian government, we received first reports which clearly indicate that neither the Italian government nor the vessel owner had authorized any military action and as a matter of fact the navies were only requested to observe the vessel while it was commandeered to Somalia. Apparently the navies and especially NATO have been given firm instructions to stand down and to not wage any military action.

In a recent event where the Danish Navy under NATO and the Seychelles coastguard had unwarrentedly attacked the pirated merchant vessel MV BELUGA NOMINATION three seamen lost their lives.

The basic question concerning armed interventions without the consent of the next-of-kin of the hostages and the flag-state and the owner is a serious issue and must now be addressed by the next of kin of the endangered seafarers, the governments, the shipping community and the media - and leagal action must follow in such cases where innocent hostages are endangered and/or wounded and/or killed by unauthorized and botched naval actions.

Source: www.groundreport.com

UN refugee agency alarmed by large number of people fleeing Somalia

The United Nations refugee agency today voiced alarm at worsening insecurity in Somalia, which has forced 50,000 people out of the country in the first three months of this year, more than double the number of refugees who fled the Horn of Africa nation during a similar period in 2010.
The refugees have sought safety in Kenya, Ethiopia and Yemen, according to Melissa Fleming, spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

Kenya received most of the new arrivals – more than 31,400 – with most taken into the Dadaab refugee camp complex. The three camps around Dadaab in eastern Kenya accommodate more than 300,000 Somali refugees.

The majority of the latest group of refugees came from the Bay and Bakol regions of southern and central Somalia, two of the major conflict zones in the country, Ms. Fleming told reporters in Geneva.

“They all spoke of a grim situation inside the country, marked by relentless violence and human rights abuses. Somali refugees told UNHCR teams about forced conscription by some of the warring parties and crippling drought,” she said.

Despite the civil unrest in Yemen and the risks involved, more than 22,000 refugees and migrants from other countries in the Horn of Africa had arrived on Yemeni shores between January and March, according to Ms. Fleming.

Some of the new arrivals told UNHCR officials in Yemen that they were unaware of the political and social upheaval there, while others said they had no option but to flee.

“For these Somali refugees the situation in Yemen was still, by comparison, much safer than the one back home,” said Ms. Fleming.

Somalia has had no fully functioning national government and has been wracked by factional warfare since the collapse in 1991 of the administration led by the late Muhammad Siad Barre.

Source: UN News Centre

Friday, April 29, 2011

Key Somali in piracy case enters plea of not guilty

A federal judge set a Jan. 31 trial date for a Somali man accused of being the chief negotiator during a piracy attack in the Arabian Sea that ended with the deaths of four Americans.

Mohammad Saaili Shibin pleaded not guilty in U.S. District Court on Wednesday to piracy, kidnapping and weapons charges in the February hijacking of the yacht Quest.

The Quest's owners, Scott and Jean Adam of Los Angeles, and their friends Bob Riggle and Phyllis Macay of Seattle, were shot and killed by pirates as the Navy tried to negotiate their release, according to the government.

U.S. District Judge Robert G. Doumar arraigned Shibin on Wednesday and set the trial date. He certified the case as complex, which waives speedy-trial rules and gives both sides more time to prepare.

Federal prosecutors say Shibin is the highest-ranking pirate the United States has captured in efforts to crack down on a rash of hijackings off east Africa.

Court documents say Shibin, who remains in jail without bond, has acknowledged receiving a $30,000 payment for his role in negotiating the release of a hijacked German vessel, the M/V Marida Marguerite.

The trial of the 14 pirate suspects captured at sea in the Quest hijacking was previously set for Nov. 29.

In another ruling in the case, Doumar ordered the government to maintain possession of the Quest as evidence. The government had sought to return the yacht to the Adams' survivors.

Source: http://hamptonroads.com

A Treasure for Somali Children: School Meals

Puntland and Somaliland may not be household names when it comes to world geography. These are two regions in the conflict-torn and impoverished nation of Somalia.

They are also two areas where the UN World Food Programme (WFP) wants to help children by providing them school meals. In a nation of high food insecurity, these school meals are a precious treasure.

As you read this, WFP is feeding 41,600 children in Somaliland and 16,300 in Puntland. Combined, over 200 schools take part. WFP wants to reach more children in these two regions, as well as expand into Central Somalia and feed 2,500 primary school students.

Funding, though, is a huge obstacle. WFP says it "is facing a 55 percent shortfall (US $43 million) for our emergency operations, including emergency school meals, in Somalia from April through September."

School feeding for children will take on even more importance with ongoing drought conditions. WFP director Josette Sheeran was recently in Central Somalia and said, "I’ve seen today that this drought is deepening and I’m especially alarmed by its impact on the most vulnerable including children and the elderly."

Schools in these areas also lack infrastructure, and WFP Food for Work projects are needed to fill these gaps.

While getting school feeding for all children in Somalia is one goal, there is another key objective: producing the food locally. Yes, food for school lunches can be imported, but it's cheaper, and better for Somali farmers, if they can produce the food for the children. WFP has set their sights on local food production.

Peter Smerdon of WFP says a joint crop surplus assessment mission has been carried out with the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) to identify crop surplus zones in Somaliland. He adds, "WFP will continue to explore the possibility of buying food locally in Somalia in 2011 if overall food production allows this."

When Somali children receive school meals, it makes a difference. A survey conducted by WFP revealed "that 98% of teachers believe that children´s attentiveness in class increased due to the school feeding program. 75% believe that violence by children has decreased."

Need more be said about the treasure school meals are for Somalia, and why every child there should receive them?

Source:: http://blogcritics.org

Somali pirates release Panama-flagged bulk carrier

Somali pirates have freed the Panama-flagged bulk carrier MV Renuar and its crew of 24 Filipinos after four months in captivity, the European Union's anti-piracy task force said on Thursday.

"The ship is now sailing to a safe port," EU Navfor said in a brief online statement.

Pirates firing rocket propelled grenades seized the 17,156 tonne vessel on December 11 as it headed to the United Arab Emirates from Mauritius.

EU Navfor did not say if a ransom had been paid.

(Editing by Richard Lough)

Source: Reuters

Indians freed by Somali pirates reach Kenya

Eight Indian crew members of a cargo vessel released by Somali pirates April 15 will soon return home to their families, with the merchant ship reaching Kenya Thursday under an Indian warship escort.

Seven other Indian crew of the bitumen carrier Asphalt Venture are still being held hostage by the pirates, who were reportedly planning to get their 120 comrades in Indian prisons released in exchange. But the firm said it was making all efforts to obtain their release too.

"The vessel and crew had arrived at the port of Mombasa, Kenya, April 28, 2011," the ship owners said in a statement from Mumbai.

After its release, the cargo vessel, in consultation Indian authorities, remained in Somali waters for some time in the hope that the seven crew members taken ashore as hostages would be returned.

Thereafter, with the engineering officers still in captivity and no engine power, the vessel proceeded slowly under tug tow and under escort of a Talwar-class Indian frigate out of Somali waters.

"To remain in these waters longer would have been dangerous for both the vessel and the remaining crew members," the shipping firm said.

With the arrival of the vessel in Mombasa, the eight freed crew members would be sent home to their families, after their seven-month ordeal that began September last year.

"The owners and managers of the firm are now working in close cooperation with all the appropriate authorities to ensure the safe return of those (seven other crew members) still in captivity," the firm said.

"Our thoughts are with the families of those who have not yet returned and we are making every effort to get them home at the earliest," it added.

According to available figures, 53 Indian sailors are being held hostage on five different ships.

Of them, 17 have been held for the longest on MT Savina Caylyn, an Italian ship which was captured Feb 8, 2010.

Source: The Mangalorean.

Somali sentenced for lying about terrorism links

A federal judge sentenced a Somali man to 10 years in prison for failing to acknowledge ties to two global terrorist groups after he was arrested near the Texas-Mexico border in 2008, the U.S. Justice Department said Thursday night.

Ahmed Muhammed Dhakane, 25, prompted the Department of Homeland Security to issue an alert in May 2010 asking Houston-area authorities to be on the lookout for a suspected member of al-Shabaabp, an al-Qaida ally based in Somalia. That warning came when two new charges of lying on a U.S. asylum application were filed against Dhakane, who had been arrested on immigration charges in Brownsville, across the Rio Grande from Matamoros, Mexico, in March 2008.

Dhakane pleaded guilty on Nov. 2 to two counts of lying on his asylum application, and the Justice Department said in a statement that he failed to acknowledge he had been a member of, or associated with, al-Barakat and Al-Ittihad Al-Islami, from prior to Sept. 11, 2001, until January 2003.

Al-Barakat is a financial transfer network; Al-Ittihad al-Islami, or the Islamic Union, wants to impose Islamic law in Somalia. Both are on the U.S. Treasury Department's list of global terrorist groups with links to al-Qaida, according to the indictment against Dhakane.

U.S. District Judge Xavier Rodriguez in San Antonio sentenced Dhakane to 10 years behind bars, and ordered that he be placed under supervised release for three years after completing his prison term.

The Justice Department said Dhakane also provided false information concerning his entry into the United States when he claimed he and his wife traveled from Somalia to Mexico via Russia, Cuba, Costa Rica and Guatemala. Instead, the statement said, from June 2006 until March 2008, Dhakane resided in Brazil where he participated in — and later ran — a large-scale human smuggling enterprise

Dhakane also lied about his traveling partner, a minor he claimed was his wife. The Justice Department said she was actually a smuggling client, that the pair were never married, and that Dhakane repeatedly raped and eventually impregnated her prior to traveling to the U.S. He also threatened to have her killed if she told authorities he had raped her, and that they were never married, according to the statement.

Citing a Justice Department memo and other documents it obtained, the San Antonio News-Express reported in March that federal officials believed Dhakane helped "violent jihadists" from East Africa sneak through Mexico and into Texas.

Despite his pleading guilty to making false statements while under oath in the immigration proceedings, Dhakane has denied that he smuggled potential terrorists into the U.S., and also says he never helped groups accused of funding terrorism.

Source: The Associated Press

Thursday, April 28, 2011

'Somali youths' behind mass brawl

A mass brawl which erupted in south Manchester was the result of a dispute between youths in the local Somali community, police have said.

Three men were arrested and a handgun - which police believe had been fired - was found after the fight in Gerry Wheale Square, Moss Side.

One man was detained after a car seen fleeing from the scene was pursued by arriving officers on Tuesday night.

One man who witnessed the melee said: "It was a riot basically."

Ch Supt Russ Jackson, of Greater Manchester Police, said it was not clear what had sparked the fighting.

Source: BBC News

Slam sanctions on Somali war mongers – AU

THE African Union (AU) has asked the international community to hand down sanctions to instigators of the war in Somalia. The move is aimed at ending impunity with which militants conduct their mischief.

The AU special representative to Somalia, Ambassor, Boubacar Gaoussou Diarra, asked donor countries to support the transitional federal government to strengthen its ability to coordinate reconciliation in Somalia.

This, he said, would solve crises in Africa. “Somalia is the only country where people instigate war, commit crimes against humanity and are not bothered.

The sooner the message is sent to Somalis that sanctions are available and ready for use, their attitudes would change and the chance for positive political settlement would increase,” Boubacar remarked.

Source: www.newvision.co.ug

At least 2.4 mln Somalis in need of humanitarian assistance: UN

At least 2.4 million Somalis -- 32 percent of the country's population -- are in need of humanitarian assistance but with the ongoing conflict coupled with the current drought blighting crops and killing livestock, many more Somalis may fall into crisis, the UN warned on Wednesday.

Two units of the UN's Food Agriculture Organization, the Food Security and Nutrition Analysis Unit (FSNAU) and the Somalia Water and Land Information Management (SWALIM) said the number of needy Somalis is set to increase as the impact of drought continues to grip the Horn of Africa country. "The impact of the drought is affecting most parts of the country, leading to livestock deaths, and increasing food and water prices, which are making it increasingly difficult for poor families to feed themselves," said Grainne Moloney, FSNAU's Chief Technical Advisor.

Rising international food and fuel prices have compounded the pressure on the poorest, many of whom are yet to recover from the 2007-2009 drought in the region.

Cereal prices continue to increase, being up to 135 percent higher in March compared to March 2010 in parts of southern Somalia.

The two units report that the country could slide into an even deeper crisis due to the combination of drought, skyrocketing food prices and constant population displacement from ongoing conflict.

With the absence of sufficient humanitarian assistance in the South due to the conflict --there are fears that these populations are likely to take the worst toll of the drought.

Poor households are increasingly finding it difficult to afford basic necessities and are being forced to migrate in search of food and income within Somalia and across international borders.

However, given that the drought is a regional phenomena, options may be limited.

Rains due in late March in northern regions have been inadequate to date and are leading to increased livestock deaths, and with the recent increases in cereal prices now being experienced in these areas, poor families are also struggling to meet their needs and going into crisis.

Moloney said urgent large scale efforts aimed at saving lives and protecting livelihoods are needed throughout Somalia to meet the needs of the most vulnerable and prevent loss of life.

Drought has already displaced some 50,000 Somalis within the country, according to UN estimates, while combined with insecurity and poverty, it makes Somalia one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world.

Tens of thousands of Somalis are forced to flee to neighboring countries including Kenya and Yemen every year.

According to UN, although it's too early to tell the outcome of the current rains, predictions already point towards a below average cereal harvest for Somali farmers, who heavily depend on rainfall and river irrigation to grow staple cereals, namely maize and sorghum.

The current long rains season is the most important season for cereal production and if these rains do not perform adequately, following the crop failure last season, prices will increase even higher, out of the reach of many. "Levels of key rivers -- Shabelle and Juba -- that benefit irrigated agriculture are currently far below their historical normal levels, mainly due to failure of rains in the Ethiopian highlands which feed the rivers," said Hussein Gadain, SWALIM's Water Coordinator.

Somalia has been in crisis off and on since 1991, but the situation worsened in March 2007 when fighting resumed.

Malnutrition rates remain some of the highest in the world, with 1 in 4 acutely malnourished in southern regions, which remain the most inaccessible for humanitarian agencies due to insecurity.

Source: Xinhua

International community struggles to find response to Daraa crackdown

Syrian troops tightened their grip on the city of Daraa, which has been the epicenter of protests against President Bashar al-Assad's regime. Troops reportedly killed six protesters on Tuesday after killing an estimated 25 a day earlier when tanks rolled into the city. Two public funerals are planned for Wednesday.

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon condemned the violence and the Security Council is meeting to discuss a coordinated response to the crackdown. While Britain and France have called for "strong" action against Assad, for now that appears to be limited to diplomacy and possible sanctions. When asked why the international community had intervened to protect civilians in Libya but not Syria, British Defense Secretary Liam Fox replied "there are limitations to what we can do."

U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice said the United States has evidence of active Iranian support for the crackdown.

Source: The Foreign Policy (FP)

Palestinian factions announce reconciliation deal

Fatah and Hamas, the two largest Palestinian parties, announced that they had reached a deal to create an interim unity government and hold elections within a year. The reconciliation agreement would bring an end to almost four years of estrangement between the factions, which began after Hamas's violent takeover of the Gaza Strip in 2007.

The agreement was announced in Cairo, and brokered by Egypt's caretaker military government. It represents one of the first signs that the turmoil across the Arab world is having an impact on Palestinian politics.

The Palestinian factions offered few details about the makeup of the planned unity government, though negotiators did announce that Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, who is hated by Hamas, will not play a role. Fayyad's absence, and the broader implications of Hamas's involvement in a unity government, could imperil the hundreds of millions of dollars in assistance that the United States provides annually to the Palestinian Authority.

Israel denounced the reconciliation deal. "The Palestinian Authority has to choose between peace with Israel and peace with Hamas," Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said. Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said that the deal crossed "a red line," and laid out several measures that Israel could take against the Palestinian Authority in response.

Source: The Foreign Policy (FP)

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Somalia Government Postpones Elections to 2012

With its mandate set to expire in less than four months, the Somali government has decided to postpone national elections until 2012.

On August 20, the original mandate bestowed to Somalia's transitional government by the international community will run out. The besieged government was given seven years to deliver a new constitution and national elections, but has thus far failed on both counts.

After a recent meeting, however, Somalia's Council of Ministers have announced it will deliver both by next year. Speaking to VOA, senior advisor to the Prime Minister Abdirahman Omar Osman said holding elections this year would be futile given the threat posed by Islamic insurgents al-Shabab.

"Most of south and central regions are controlled by al-Shabab who are not willing to take part of the said election," said Osman. "Therefore, it would be very difficult to get a kind of representative members of parliament that is accountable to its people."

Al-Shabab has been battling the government since 2007 to establish an Islamic state on the Horn of Africa. The group, which maintains ties to al-Qaida, has pushed the government to the edge of survival and controls the majority of central and southern Somalia, including much of the capital, Mogadishu.

The Transitional Federal Government (TFG) has maintained its foothold in Mogadishu with significant support from the 8,000 troops of the African Union peacekeeping mission AMISOM. Given al-Shabab's strength, many international observers see little hope for the beleaguered government.

But the TFG, using local forces trained by AMISOM troops, recently pushed out on the offensive, claiming victories in Mogadishu as well in the Gedo region along the Kenyan and Ethiopian border.
While the chance of victory over al-Shabab appears slim in the coming months, Osman says the government sees a momentum, which can be converted into victory by next year.

"If the current the developments of security continues the path on the way it is now then the government feels al Shabab will be defeated within 12 months and if that happens then the government will be in control of most of the country and elections can take place," added Osman.

But even if al-Shabab can be defeated, President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed and Prime Minister Mohammed Abdullahi Mohammed are likely to face stiff opposition from within. Somalia's powerful speaker of parliament, Sharif Hassan Sheikh Aden, is engaged in a very public power struggle with the country's executive, and has been loath to support any initiative from the office of either man.

On February 3, Aden drew international criticism when the parliament voted to extend its term for an additional three years. While the speaker has defended the extension, he recently rejected a vote by the Council of Ministers to extend their own term by one year.

Several lawmakers have already rejected the delay in elections, and Aden reportedly snubbed a Saturday meeting to build consensus between the Parliament and the government.

Aden is said to be favored by regional powers such as Kenya and Ethiopia and has been pegged by many as a replacement for President Ahmed. If elections are held, the Aden would likely square off against Ahmed, who Osman indicated is interested in running.

Somalia has not had a functioning central government since the 1991 overthrow of dictator Mohammed Siad Barre in Mogadishu.

Source: VOA News

Firms plan private war against pirates

International naval forces are expected to step up operations against Somali pirates but private security companies are seeking to provide armed escorts for merchant ships to counter the pirates' expansion into the Indian Ocean.

The leading British insurer Jardine Lloyd Thompson is organizing a fleet of 18 gunboats to shepherd convoys of vessels across the Gulf of Aden, which runs into Arabian Sea and Indian Ocean, vital trading and oil routes now under increasing threat.

The project is known as the Convoy Escort Program, was conceived several months ago by Jardine Lloyd Thompson, which insures around 15 percent of the world's maritime cargo ships.

It is working with the London security firm BTG Global Risk Partners. Its founder, Liam Morrissey, a former major in the Canadian army, is the principal consultant.

Although business sources say much of the funds to finance the program have been secured, the CEP has not yet been approved by the European Union.

Jardine Lloyd Thompson has been seeking to get other maritime insurance companies, as well as major shipping lines, to support the project.

If the project comes together, CEP could be operational this year, say insurance sources in London.

The EU operates a counter-piracy naval flotilla in the Gulf of Aden, one of several international naval task forces deployed in the waters used by some 30,000 merchant ships every year.

Nor have any of the states along the littoral signed on to allowing the CEP gunboats to fly their flag and thus provide a legal framework under which the ships can operate.

The plan calls for the escort boats to be armed with heavy .50 caliber/12.7mm machine guns and crewed by armed former military personnel, mainly Britons, South Africans, Australians and New Zealanders.

These would coordinate with naval forces and allow the warships to hunt pirates who in recent months have been attacking ships up to 1,000 miles from their longtime coastal hunting grounds deep into the Indian Ocean.

Piracy is costing the global economy $7 billion-$12 billion a year, the shipping industry says.

A report by One Earth Future, a governance foundation in Colorado, estimated piracy costs the industry up to $3.2 billion annually in extra insurance and another $2.95 billion to reroute vessels around the Cape of Good Hope.

The average ransom rose from $3.4 million per ship in 2009 to $5.4 million in 2010.

A record $9.5 million was paid out Nov. 6 for the Samho Dream, a 300,000-ton South Korean supertanker and its 24-man crew. It was hijacked in the Indian Ocean April 4, 2010, carrying 2 million barrels of Iraqi crude to the United States.

The Somali pirates are increasingly threatening global oil supplies from the Persian Gulf as they extend their attacks ever deeper into the Arabian Sea and Indian Ocean.

They have achieved this all-weather, deep-water capability by using captured trawlers and small cargo vessels as motherships for the pirates' speedboats.

Three supertankers have been seized this year, the first time that such a number have been captured in a three-month period.

The International Maritime Bureau in London reports that piracy hit an all-time high in the first quarter of 2011 with 142 attacks worldwide, mostly by Somali sea bandits. Of the 97 attacks pinned on Somali pirates, up from 35 in the equivalent period in 2010, 37 were on tankers, IMB said.

The piracy problem "is spinning out of control into the entire Indian Ocean," Joe Angelo, managing director of the International Association of Independent Tanker Owners, declared in February.

"If piracy in the Indian Ocean is left unabated, it will strangle these crucial shipping lanes with the potential to severely disrupt oil flows to the United States and the rest of the world," he said.

"We want to see a significant increase in government will to eradicate piracy in this area, and not just contain it."

Some shipping lines employ "guns for hire" from private security contractors on their vessels.

But the IMB has voiced concerns about this. "Ships are not an ideal place for a gun battle," declared IMB Director Capt. Pottengal Mukundan.

"While we understand that owners want to protect their ships, we don't agree in principle with putting armed security on ships."

Source: The United Press International

Somali cuisine moves to the mainstream

Immigrants from Somalia are now one of the largest ethnic groups in the Twin Cities, but Somali restaurants haven’t gained nearly as much crossover acceptance as Mexican, Vietnamese or even Thai restaurants. Race no doubt plays a part, and so do culture and location. Most of Somali restaurants are concentrated in neighborhoods with high concentrations of immigrants, and you are much less likely to find a Somali restaurant in a suburban strip mall than a taqueria or Vietnamese restaurant.

In more traditional Somali restaurants, the clientele is mainly male, with a separate seating area for women and children, often shielded by a screen. I have always been made to feel welcome when I have visited Somali restaurants, but I have sometimes felt a bit out of place - the only white customer, and the only outsider in a cafe that has the feeling of a private social club. The staff usually speaks English, but the customers are much more likely to speak Somali. For women visitors, the experience may be even more discomfiting - there are rarely any women in the cafes, and when there are, they are likely to be wearing the hijab and speaking Somali.

In spite of these obstacles, adventurous diners will find much to enjoy at Somali restaurants, and some of the newest Somali restaurants are making an effort to attract a larger and more diverse clientele. The Safari Express, inside the Midtown Global Market, won Minneapolis-St. Paul magazine's 2010 award for Best African Restaurant, and an award for best new business from the Neighborhood Development Corporation. Owners Sade and Jamal Hashi are exceptionally outgoing and friendly, and the setting is inviting - take a table in one of the common areas, and you will be surrounded by diners from all over the world.

Safari Express recently brought Somali cuisine a new measure of mainstream acceptance - Lynne Rosetto Caspar visited the kitchen, where Jamal offered her a tour of Somali cooking.

At the Safari Express in the Midtown Global Market, most of the featured specialties are on display, and the servers gladly offer samples before you buy. The standard dishes are mostly mild or spicy stews, served over a rice pilaf, but you can also get wraps or sandwiches of beef, chicken or lamb, with few ingredients that non-Somalis would find objectionable. The chicken suquaar, sauteed with red peppers, peas, onions and other veggies is robustly spicy, but not overpowering; milder options include the curry chicken and chicken fantastik. Most entrees are $7.99 or $8.49, with half-portions available for $5.99.

The most exotic item on the menu is also the most familiar - the camel burger ($8.49), billed as the "leanest, meanest" burger in Amer. Mine consisted of a small patty, cooked well-done, topped with melted American cheese, tomato, lettuce, and a thick slice of pineapple. It tasted pretty much like any hamburger, except for the pineapple. The Hashi Brothers also recently opened the Safari Restaurant and Banquet Center at 3010 4th Ave. S., Minneapolis.

Safari Express, in the Midtown Global Market, 920 E. Lake St., 612-874-0756.

The new Afro Deli & Cafe at the African Development Center, 1939 Fifth St. (at Riverside), Minneapolis, also features Somali dishes, although they aren't labeled as such - the Afro-steak dinner ($4.99 lunch / $7.99 dinner), a sauteed medley of chopped beef, onions and peppers served over rice tastes a lot like the dish offered on many Somali menus as beef suqaar.

Afro Deli and Café, 1939 Fifth St., Minneapolis 612-871-5555

I am not sure whether chicken fantastic ($4.99 / $7.99) actually originated in Somalia, but it has become a staple of local Somali restaurants - sliced roasted chicken breast in a creamy Alfredo sauce with carrots, zucchini and green beans. Also recommended are the coconut shrimp (presumably not Somali; 6 for $3.95) and the sambusas - deep-fried pockets filled with beef or lentils, onions and spices ($1.25 for one; $3.25 for three).

First Cup Cafe 2740 Minnehaha Ave # 180 Minneapolis, 612-886-2125.

920 E. Lake St.
Minneapolis, MN 55407

1939 Fifth St.
Minneapolis, MN 55454

2740 Minnehaha Ave.
Minneapolis, MN 55406

The First Cup Coffee House, a popular internet cafe in the Hi-Lake Shopping Center isn't quite as mainstream as Safari Express and the Afro Deli, but it recently expanded into the adjacent Hiawatha Pizza, and it's very much a work in progress. The pizzas listed on the big sign above the counter are no longer available, but according to one server, the menu will expand to include some Sudanese dishes.

In the evening, it's likely to be crowded with Somali men, and does have that social club feeling (on one visit, a row of men was apparently preparing for prayer). It's less crowded earlier in the day - when I stopped by recently for breakfast, I was the only customer. I had a terrific $5 breakfast that included malawah (a couple of sweet crepes), a bowl of beef sugaar and fool (pureed beans), a bowl of creamy vegetable soup, a banana (a staple at almost every Somali meal) and a cup of Somali tea, a blend of tea, steamed milk, sugar, cardamom and ginger. First Cup is worth a visit just for the tea ($1).

BY Jeremy Iggers
Jeremy Iggers (jeremy@tcmediaalliance.org) is the executive director of the Twin Cities Media Alliance.

Source: The Twin Cities Daily Planet

Somaliland Plans to Halt Use of Somali Shilling by Mid-June

Somaliland’s central bank will begin exchanging 7 billion Somali shillings ($4.37 million) of notes for its own currency next month as part of a plan to stop using the Somali currency in the autonomous region by mid-June.

“We are preparing for the Somaliland shilling to be used all over Somaliland,” Central Bank of Somaliland Governor Abdi Dirir Abdi said in an interview on April 24 in Hargeisa, the capital. Abdi said the rate at which the currency will be exchanged has yet to be determined.

Somaliland, a former British colony, declared independence in 1991, following the ouster of former Somali dictator Mohammed Siad Barre. No sovereign state has formally recognized the region as independent.

The Somaliland shilling was introduced in October 1994, according to the government’s website. At the end of 2008, the currency was valued at 7,500 per dollar, it said. The Somali shilling is currently valued at 1,601 against the U.S. currency according to Bloomberg data.

The central bank of Somaliland expects lawmakers to enact a draft banking law by June enabling commercial lenders to extend credit to borrowers for the first time, Abdi said last month. Somaliland is in talks with Banque pour le Commerce et l’Industrie, based in neighboring Djibouti, and two other lenders to grant them banking licenses, Abdi said. The nation of 3.5 million people currently has no banks.

--Editors: Paul Richardson, Alastair Reed.

To contact the reporter on this story: Mohamoud Ali in Hargeisa via Nairobi at pmrichardson@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Paul Richardson in Nairobi at pmrichardson@bloomberg.net.


Source: The Business Week

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Census: Burlington's Old North End is the most diverse place in Vermont

Rahmo Abdulle, who moved to Burlington eight years ago from Somalia, walks on Archibald Street in the Old North End with three of her children . GLENN RUSSELL, Free Press
In the past decade, the neighborhood has become the most racially diverse place in Vermont, thanks largely to refugees from Asia and Africa.

U.S. census data make it official: The neighborhoods in Tract 3 — mostly north of North Street — bear a deeper palette of skin tones than anywhere else in the predominantly white Green Mountain State.

From 2000 to 2010, the black population in this Burlington neighborhood nearly tripled, to 9.9 percent. The count for Asian residents rose to 8 percent, an almost seven-fold increase. The white population dropped from 84.3 to 77.2 percent.

"I cook differently now. I shop differently," said Megan Humphrey, pausing between errands one afternoon last week outside Dot's Market on Archibald Street. "We're enriched."

Other places in Chittenden County, Vermont's fastest-growing region, share the rise in racial diversity — most notably in Winooski and two other neighborhoods in Burlington. Even in these places, Vermont lags behind the rest of the country in its varied racial composition — fewer than three in four U.S. residents are white, for instance, and almost 13 percent of Americans are black.

But still, there is no question: Diversity in and around Burlington is on the rise, and nowhere is that more apparent than in the Old North End.

In many ways, numbers are the simplest part of the equation.

Humphrey moved here 30 years ago. She said she's never felt more at home.

"It's such a small world," she said, "and more of it's finally coming to Vermont."

Live and learn
Waves of Irish, Italians and Quebecois preceded the arrival of urban homesteaders such as Humphrey to the Old North End. But only much later in the 20th century did migrations significantly dilute the Euro-centric gene pool.

Burlington College, which sits at the western edge of this neighborhood, is the home of an oral history and ethnography project that aims to document the phenomenon.

Source: free press

Somali Man Arrested for Negotiating Ransom of Danish Ship

A Somali man was arrested last week for his role in the 2008 hijacking of a Danish merchant ship.

Ali Mohammed Ali, 48, was arrested last week at Dulles International Airport. He is scheduled to make his first court appearance April 26th in U.S. District Court in Washington.

Ali has been charged with conspiracy to commit piracy, piracy and additional crimes. If convicted he could spend life in prison.

He is the second person to be charged in the hijacking of the CEC FUTURE in 2008 off the Somali coast. Prosecutors claim that a group of pirates armed with AK-47s and RPG’s seized the ship on Nov. 7, 2008 and forced the captain to sail to various locations where Ali and other boarded. Ali is said to be responsible for demanding a ransom of $7 million and negotiating the ransom payment and release of the vessel and crew.

Two months after hijacking the CEC FUTURE the ship and its crew of 13 were released thanks to the payment of a $1.7 million ransom.

Jama Idle Ibrahim, 39, was also charged with hijacking the CEC FUTURE earlier this year. Ibrahim plead guilty to his charges and was sentenced to 25 years for his role in the attack. His sentence will run concurrently with a 30-year sentence he is already serving for a separate attack of a U.S. Navy ship.

Despite the ship being Danish owned, the U.S. Attorney’s Office is prosecuting in this case because the cargo the ship was carrying at the time of the attack belonged to McDermott International, Inc., and engineering and construction company based in Houston.

Source: www.maritime-executive.com

Early Somali Life Depicted In Cave Paintings

Known today for its bloody conflicts and instability, Somalia’s little known history can be found in the colorful cave paintings of animals and humans discovered in 2002 by a French archaeology team.

Laas Gaal, Somalia (also known as Laas Geel), just outside of Haregeisa, the capital of Somalia’s self-declared Somaliland state, contains 10 caves that show vivid depictions of a pastoralist history which dates back to some 5,000 years or more, reports AFP.

A French archaeology team was sent in 2002 to survey Somalia in search of rock shelters and caves that might contain stratified archaeological infills that could document the period when production economy appeared in this part of the Horn of Africa, according to Wikipedia.

During the survey, the Laas Geel cave paintings were discovered. The paintings were in excellent condition, depicting ancient humans who lived in the area raising their hands and worshipping humpless cows with large lyre-shaped horns.

Although the paintings were known to the local Somali people for centuries, it was not advertised to the international community until a team of experts returned to the area in November 2003 to study the paintings and their prehistoric context in detail.

Even with the history of Somalia wars, natural weathering, animals and other factors, the paintings have been well preserved and have retained their clear outlines and vibrant colors.

Sada Mire, a Somali-born British archaeologist who is working to preserve the rare heritage, explained to AFP that the paintings of decorated cows, herders and wild animals show a period when the region that is now the barren Horn of Africa was lush and had plenty of wild animals.

Laas Gaal, translated to mean “camel watering hole,” no longer attracts herds of cattle to graze and water. Human settlement is sparse and the land is dry and parched.

Mire says, "We know that the painters were pastoralists who lived in a much better climate than the present.”

According to Wikipedia, the local nomads used the caves as a shelter when it rained. They never paid much attention to the paintings until its value was apparent.

Some locals actually believed that the paintings were the works of evil spirits.

"The people around here thought the caves had evil spirits and never used to come near. They offered sacrifices not to be harmed," Ali Said, an assistant archaeologist with the Somaliland government says.

The site is now guarded by the local villagers and protected from looters.

"It is quite an important discovery as little is known about the history of this region and lots of archaeological heritage is being lost to destruction, looting and neglect," Mire says.

"The paintings are vanishing if urgent conservation measures are not taken. At the moment we are protecting and recording them. Weathering as well as human threat in terms of unplanned development are immediate treats," she warns.

Somaliland authorities hope to capitalize on these paintings when stability returns to the region and brings tourists.

"People now appreciate these (rock) paintings and they hope they will attract tourism which will benefit them," Said tells AFP as he points to a cluster of small drawings of wild animals in one of the caves.

"The government is encouraging those who can to build hotels and resorts around here (Laas Geel) to host tourists," he adds.

Source: RedOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - www.redorbit.com

Grotto galleries show early Somali life

In a region ravaged by two decades of civil unrest, a series of ancient cave paintings are at risk of destruction

A galaxy of colourful animal and human sketches adorn the caves in the rocky hills of this arid wilderness in northern Somalia, home to Africa's earliest known and most pristine rock art.

But in a region ravaged by two decades of relentless civil unrest and lawlessness, the archeological site is at risk of destruction, looting and clandestine excavation.

The 10 caves in Laas Geel, Somali for "camel watering hole", outside Hargeisa, the capital of Somalia's self-declared Somaliland state, show vivid depictions of a pastoralist history dating back some 5,000 years or more.

The paintings were discovered in 2002 by a French archaeology team and have since been protected to bar looters after their value became apparent to locals who previously feared they were the work of evil spirits.

"The people around here thought the caves had evil spirits and never used to come near. They offered sacrifices not to be harmed," recounted Ali Said, an assistant archaeologist with the Somaliland government.

The cave galleries provide a peek into the little known history of this part of the world, which in recent times has mostly been famous for bloody conflicts and instability.

Paintings of decorated cows -- some with radiant neck stripes -- herders and wild animals point to the interglacial period when the now arid Horn of Africa region was lush and had plenty of wild animals, explained Sada Mire, a Somali-born British archaeologist working to preserve the rare heritage.

Much of Somalia is now a vast badland and the parched Laas Geel region no longer draws heards of cattle coming to graze and water, while human settlement is sparse.

"We know that the painters were pastoralists who lived in a much better climate than the present," Mire said.

"It is quite an important discovery as little is known about the history of this region and lots of archaeological heritage is being lost to destruction, looting and neglect," she added.

The Laas Geel rock caves are located near a confluence of two now dry rivers, which lend credence to its name and the practice of herders taking to etching cave walls with animal and other depictions.

While some of the Laas Geel cave paintings are stunningly vivid, others have faded off due to rock degradation and effects of weather. The caves house a constellation of brown, orange, white and red pre-historic sketches on the walls and ceiling.

"The paintings are vanishing if urgent conservation measures are not taken. At the moment we are protecting and recording them. Weathering as well as human threat in terms of unplanned development are immediate treats," Mire said.

Mire now works with the government of Somaliland to train locals to protect the artefacts as well as help authorities draft laws to preserve the region's historical sites.

A former British protectorate, Somaliland declared independence from the rest of Somalia when war erupted following the overthrow of president Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991, but it is not recognised by the international community.

The small region in northern Somalia also boasts other pre-historic sites, also with cave paintings and other early human life.

In the northern Dhambalin region, rock caves also host colourful paintings of cattle and wild animals as well as dogs and a man on a horseback, which Mire said in a recent article is one of the earliest known depictions of a mounted huntsman.

Somaliland has been spared much of the violence that has flayed the south and central Somalia regions and authorities are looking to capitalise on the relative stability and the recently discovered historical treasures to woo tourists.

"People now appreciate these (rock) paintings and they hope they will attract tourism which will benefit them," Said noted, pointing to a cluster small drawings of wild animals in one of the caves.

"The government is encouraging those who can to build hotels and resorts around here (Laas Geel) to host tourists," he added.

Source: AFP

Aid Workers Say Child Soldiers Involved in Escalating Somali Violence

A young boy leads the hard-line Islamist Al Shabab fighters as they conduct military exercise in northern Mogadishu's Suqaholaha neighborhood, Somalia (File Photo)


Aid workers and observers in Somalia say an increasing number of child soldiers are being used by factions involved in the escalating violence in the country. They say most of the children are recruited or abducted by the militant Islamic group al-Shabab and suffer horrendous experiences on the battlefield.

The United Nations children's agency, UNICEF, estimates that thousands of children as young as 10 years old are involved in the fighting.

Isabella Castrogiovanni, head of the child protection unit at UNICEF Somalia, says the militant Islamic group al-Shabab recruits most of the minors.

She says the group gets children from schools, villages, and other communities, increasingly by force. She says that in one campaign, al-Shabab officials pressure families to hand over at least one of their children.

Once in the ranks, Castrogiovanni says children and other recruits have mobile phones containing short video clips to motivate them to fight. She describes one clip that she has seen.

"It's basically one al-Shabab fighter who died and there are many people around him including very young people, and there is somebody who is sitting next to the body and just saying, you know, repeating over and over again, this person [who] has died is a martyr, he has died for the cause, he will go to heaven, and then again this mantra of the infidels, the jihad, the obligation to fight for the jihad, and so on," said Castrogiovanni.

She says Somalia's government, commonly called the TFG, also uses minors. Castrogiovanni says she thinks this is mostly because the TFG does not have proper structures and procedures to determine the real age of recruits.

"I mean, we are not talking of a national army the way other countries do have a national army, meaning a very structured, controlled, centralized, and everybody is registered," she added. "There are several militia groups which are loosely associated with the TFG but maybe they are not accountable to the central TFG command structure."

It is rare that al-Shabab talks to the press. There have been many independent reports of the group recruiting child soldiers.

Somali Ambassador to Kenya Mohamed Ali Nur tells VOA the the Somali government has a strict policy of not using child soldiers.

"We have [a] committee in the forces who [are] just making sure that soldiers, if recruited, that they [committee] check how old [is] that boy or girl, and make sure that they are not underage," said nur.

In recent months, fighting has intensified between al-Shabab and the TFG. The United States considers al-Shabab a terrorist group linked to al-Qaida. The TFG was formed years ago through an international process to bring stability to the volatile country.

The African Union Mission in Somalia, AMISOM, has contributed troops to help stabilize the country and protect the government against al-Shabab attacks.

AMISOM spokesman Major Barigye Bahoku tells VOA most of the child soldiers his troops encounter say they were kidnapped by al-Shabab from Islamic schools and forced to fight. He says some parents who ask about their children or try to rescue them are killed.

Major Bahoku says at least three children every month surrender to AMISOM. He says the children describe horrific experiences.

" ...witnessing their comrades dying on the front line, how they are buried in shallow graves, how those who try to defect or run away are killed," he said. "It’s a horrendous situation."

Major Bahoku says his troops also encounter children firing on the battlefield.

"We try the best we can under the circumstances," he said. "If we are able to identify that these are underage children, we will possibly give them preference and maybe shout orders out to them to put down their guns and run away. Unfortunately we have got a language barrier problem."

UNICEF Somalia's Castrogiovanni says when children are in the line of fire, they are killed, maimed, or captured and jailed, with some lucky ones escaping. She says this is, in her words, "the worst one can imagine."

Somalia has been at war since dictator Siad Barre was overthrown in 1991.

Source: VOA News

Somali pirates free ship with 24 Filipino crewmen

Somali pirates freed last Saturday a Greek-owned, Cyprus-flagged ship and its crew of 24 Filipinos seized last January about 500 miles south-west of Oman while it was en route to India from Jordan.

Reports said the release of the 52,163-ton merchant vessel MV Eagle and its crew was made possible by the payment of about $6 million in ransom.

To date, there are 99 Filipino seafarers on board 11 vessels still being held by Somali pirates in the Gulf of Aden.

While the period 2000 to 2007 saw an average 26 acts of reported piracy per year off the coast of Somalia, the number jumped to 111 in 2008 and quadrupled to over 400 in 2009 and 2010 affecting ships off the coast of Somalia in the Gulf of Aden, and further into the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean.

In 2010 alone, approximately 790 crew members were taken hostage.

Most of the hijackings end without casualties with ransom being paid, but often after several months of negotiations.

The Gulf of Aden, a body of water between Somalia and Yemen, is the main sea route between Europe and Asia. Tankers carrying Middle East oil through the Suez Canal must pass first through the Gulf of Aden.

Pirate gangs operating along Somalia's 1,900-mile-long coastline have become increasingly audacious over the past two years, hijacking dozens of merchant ships and their crews.

Somali pirates are making millions of dollars in ransoms. Despite successful efforts to quell attacks in the Gulf of Aden, international maritime authorities have struggled to contain piracy in the Indian Ocean, owing to the vast distances involved.

The economic cost of piracy has been pegged at $7 billion to $12 billion per year, with shippers facing rising insurance costs that threaten to raise commodity prices.

Source: www.mb.com.ph

Yemen: Opposition backs GCC plan for Saleh resignation

Yemeni opposition sources say they have agreed to the Gulf Co-operation Council plan under which President Ali Abdullah Saleh would step down after 30 days.

The coalition would take part in a national unity government "after receiving clarifications", they added. It had initially rejected the proposal.

The GCC plan has yet to be formally accepted by the opposition or Mr Saleh.

Earlier, at least two people were killed at separate protests demanding the president resign immediately.

One person was shot dead and another 30 were wounded after plainclothes officers opened fire on demonstrators in Ibb, south of the capital Sanaa, witnesses and medical sources said.

The second protester was killed in the southern province of al-Baida.

Troops also fired live rounds and tear gas at tens of thousands of protesters in the southern flashpoint city of Taiz. One report said a woman watching the clash from her balcony was shot dead.

More than 130 people have been killed by security forces and supporters of Mr Saleh since the anti-government unrest began in January.

Distrust

On Monday evening, a spokesman for the opposition Common Front, Mohammed Qahtan, said it had notified GCC Secretary General Abdul Latif al-Zayani that it was prepared to take part in a unity government.

"We have given our final accord to the GCC initiative after having received assurances from our Gulf brothers and American and European friends on our objections to certain clauses in the plan," he told the AFP news agency.

On Saturday, the Common Front announced that it accepted the GCC plan with the exception of a clause on the formation of the new government.

The GCC proposes that President Saleh will submit his resignation to parliament, and hand over power to his vice-president, 30 days after asking the opposition to appoint a prime minister to form an administration including ministers from his ruling General People's Congress party. The opposition had said Mr Saleh would have to step down before a new government was formed.

Mr Saleh's resignation would also be dependent on parliament passing a law providing immunity from prosecution for the president "and those who worked with him during his rule", the GCC initiative says.

The Common Front's change of heart comes after the US ambassador to Yemen reportedly pushed the coalition to accept the GCC deal. The General People's Congress agreed on Saturday to participate.

Analysts say that allowing the president to stay on for another month could exacerbate the crisis in the poorest Arab state.

Many protesters, unconvinced by the GCC plan and distrustful of Mr Saleh's promise to go after 32 years in power, have called for more rallies. Thousands remain at a permanent protest camp in Sanaa.

Source: BBC News

Syria escalates crackdown

As the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad deployed tanks and soldiers to the town of Dara'a in an attempt to quash a growing threat to his rule, the U.S. State Department issued a travel advisory late Monday calling for the evacuation of diplomats' families and non-essential personnel at the U.S. embassy. It also urged U.S. citizens in Syria to leave the country immediately.

About 400 Syrians have already lost their lives in Syria's unrest, and at least 25 people have been killed so far in Dara'a during Assad's latest crackdown.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague said that the U.N. Security Council was considering steps to punish Syria for its brutal suppression of dissent. European and U.S. officials have distributed a draft statement that condemns the crackdown, and supports U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's call for an independent investigation of events in Syria.

Syria's state-run news agency justified the crackdown in Dara'a by saying that the Syrian Army had been invited into the town by its residents, to drive out "extremist terrorist groups."

Source: The Foreign Policy (FP)

Monday, April 25, 2011

Somali hijackers captured on the high seas should be sent to Gitmo

This is probably not a precedent that the Obama administration wants to make; to associate autonomous radical Islamists with Piracy.

For centuries, international laws allowed for pirates captured in battle to be summarily executed (or ‘drawn and quartered’ in England). Like al-Qaeda, Pirates represented no national interest. They were just a gang of guys with a common cause.

Are radical Islamists the land equivalent of piracy on the high seas?

Many on the left are hung up on the notion that an act of war can only be caused by one officially recognized nation onto another. This is their justification for trying radical Islamists in civilian court.

The United States HAS officially declared war on autonomous groups of pirates before. (see: The Barbary Wars) Those were MUSLIM pirates, as well.

Source: Weaselzippers.us

U.N.: Quarter of Somali children hungry

A quarter of Somalia's children are going hungry as drought ravages agriculture, a U.N. official said Saturday.

Grainne Moloney of the Food and Agriculture Organization told the BBC 2.5 million people have been affected, and total crop failure in the southern region of the country is forcing refugees into Kenya.

The rains have been inadequate for several seasons, killing livestock, the basis of the rural economy.

Remittances from Somalis abroad have declined amid the global economic crisis as well.

The United Nations has only raised a third of the funds needed for food aid for Somalia, Moloney added.

Twenty years of civil war and the absence of an effective central government have worsened the situation.

Source: United Press International

Summit focuses on future of Somali youths as extremism beckons

Islamic radicalism and the threat of young Somalis being lured to fight for extremist causes usually aren't on the mind of Ilhan Dahir's friends at Hilliard Bradley High School.

"If we talk about it, it's in an intellectual way," said the 18-year-old senior, herself of Somali descent.

But Dahir said that last night's summit on preventing the cultivation of extremism in the Somali community was worthwhile.

Community leaders and youths attending the summit, in the Embassy Suites hotel on the Northeast Side, said that too many young Somalis here are falling into crime or dropping out of school, at risk of becoming alienated and perhaps enticed by the lure of extremist groups such as al-Shabab, which has taken over broad areas of Somalia and has ties to al-Qaida.

Education and work opportunities are crucial, they said. Some young people feel they're in limbo between the American and Somali cultures, Dahir said.

So there's work to do.

Neither Columbus nor other Ohio cities are havens for extremism, said Robert C. Glenn, the new executive director of Ohio's homeland security office. But partnerships must be built between government agencies and the Somali community, he stressed.

Steve Walker, a former state refugee coordinator, said many Somali groups here discourage radicalization, from minority Bantus to the Somali community at large.

Because of that, concern here is slight, said Fred Bowditch, a retired Columbus police lieutenant who is a homeland security consultant for the city and Franklin County.

"It's a tight group here," he said. "They're very concerned about their children."

Mohamed Hassan, imam of Masjid Abu Hurairah, a mosque near Innis and Westerville roads, said he believes extremist recruitment is a low risk here.

When news broke three years ago that 20 young men of Somali descent had left Minnesota to fight for al-Shabab in Somalia, the Columbus community was stirred to action to try to make sure it didn't happen here.

"It awakened everybody," Hassan said.

He said some curious youths visit radicals' websites, but he doesn't believe they'll be swayed to join extremist causes.

Still, religious leaders have to take the lead to fight radicalization, he said.

Columbus is home to the nation's second-largest Somali community, behind the Minneapolis-St. Paul area.

Last night's meeting was held as soccer tournaments featuring Somali teams are being held in Columbus this weekend. Somali leaders here and elsewhere hope sports and other activities can help keep Somali youths away from crime, drugs and other problems.

A similar youth summit was held in Minneapolis in January. Young people were concerned about racial profiling by law enforcement, and the topic of radicalization had been a big taboo, community organizer Hindia Ali said.

But afterward, 15 Somali youths decided to attend that city's police citizenship academy to find out how police do their job. She said five Somalis are now on police forces in the metro area.

Columbus needs to have frank discussions about radicalization, said Abdirizak Farah, a U.S. Department of Homeland Security policy adviser who once worked for Columbus' Community Relations Commission.

"We cannot take the security and safety of our country for granted," Farah said.

mferenchik@dispatch.com

Source: The Coumbus Dispatch

For Somali women, health program eases the pain of war, exile

The Harborview Medical Center nurse faced a conundrum.


Several doctors had told Bria Chakofsky-Lewy that a group of Somali women patients had aches and pains they could not treat successfully. Chakofsky-Lewy, who supervises a program for immigrants and refugees, reasoned the trouble could be a combination of physical trauma and emotional pain from fleeing war and relocating thousands of miles from their homeland.


One solution could have been a regimen of pills.


Chakofsky-Lewy had another idea: massage therapy.

So, on a Sunday morning in 2009, about a dozen Somali women in loose-fitting Islamic garb arrived at a South Seattle community center. They drank tea. And volunteer massage-therapy students kneaded the knots out of their backs.


The women soon added yoga to the agenda — with a Jane Fonda tape. The program, called Daryel or "wellness" in Somali, was a hit.


For many who attended Daryel, the pains started to lessen.


"It's different from going to the hospital and getting medicine,"said Ibado Hassan, 42, a single mother of four who started attending several months ago. "You're not using a drug, but it's still a medicine."


Chakofsky-Lewy had addressed the pain, but she also had dragged health care out of the clinic.


Her group at Harborview Medical Center tries to deliver "culturally competent care." That is, health care sensitive to the diverse cultural backgrounds of patients, many of whom are unfamiliar with Western medicine.


Many of the Somali women had witnessed death and violence in their homeland, a legacy of two decades of civil war that continues to leave much of Somalia in anarchy.


Many fled to refugee camps before making their way to this country. By the end of 2009, about 680,000 Somalis had fled the country and registered with the U.N. High Commission on Refugees, according to UNHCR statistics.


Somali women have played a central role in keeping their often large families together during their migration out of Somalia, placing lots of stress and strain on their bodies.


"A lot of these women would put aside their physical pains because they have to be strong for their kids and their families," said Aisha Dahir, a Harborview staffer who translates for a Somali woman in the program.


When the women arrived in the United States, they had to find employment and learn a panoply of new skills: banking, paying rent and utility bills, buying insurance, learning English.


"When I came here, I used to cry like a child, really," Hassan said. "I didn't know the language, I didn't know the culture, I was so young. It was another new life. It was so hard."

The strains of immigration to a strange culture, coupled with past trauma, could have contributed to the pains the women were feeling. The rates of depression and post-traumatic stress disorder increase among populations that have experienced war.

But Somali culture stigmatizes those who seek mental-health treatment. A woman taking pills to treat depression might be called crazy. To persuade a patient to begin a mental-health regimen — medications, counseling, regular checkups — isn't easy.


So Chakofsky-Lewy skirted the problem. Rather than fight the stigma directly, she proposed treatment without cultural taboo.


Zoe Abigail Bermet, a licensed massage practitioner who has volunteered with Daryel for two years, originally was interested in the program because she thought massage could be a great treatment for trauma.


But she has realized over the past two years how it has grown beyond just massage and yoga.


"Honestly, it's what health care should look like, you know, where it's not just one person going to see a doctor for 15 minutes, and they tell you what to do," Bermet said. "It's a place where you can talk and ask other people what's going on with them."


Yoga classes and massage still are at the heart of the program, but the effects go beyond immediate pain relief. The program offers health education. The women also have a rare opportunity to focus on themselves for a few hours Sunday.


"The main thing they teach a Somali woman is how to take care of herself," Hassan said. "Mostly, including myself, we don't take care of ourselves."

Unlike American women, these women cannot go to a gym, at least not without considerable anxiety because of concerns about modesty. The Somali women say they feel at ease exercising together, all speaking the same language and wearing Islamic garb, which requires them to cover most of their bodies.


On break between a communal yoga class and individual massage sessions, they chat among themselves. They drink Somali chai and sometimes bring Somali food.

Many of the women discovered the program through Harborview, where they receive their health care. But word of the program has spread throughout the community. One woman now brings her mother to the classes.

Chakofsky-Lewy has accommodated the program's popularity by shifting the venue, finding more volunteer massage therapists and emphasizing the yoga class, which can accommodate more women.


Around a half dozen Somali women gathered in a circle a few Sundays ago to learn yoga postures from their instructor.


While practicing the tree pose, a couple of the women remarked how the stance was reminiscent of the way they used to milk camels. Because the camels are too tall for the women to milk while sitting down, one woman, wearing a deep blue hijab, explained she used to stand on one foot and balance a bucket on her other thigh.


For many, Daryel offers a rare opportunity to gather and enjoy social time. Hassan said she rarely sees other adults during the week, when she cares for her children, runs a day-care center out of her home, shops for groceries and cleans the house.

Now, she said she's learned to "put everything behind, forget the job, forget the house, forget the children, forget it all and just drop yourself here and enjoy it."

"The women they talk and they get relief, it's really ... I have to say that I hope this program stays forever," Hassan said.

Andrew Doughman, a recent University of Washington graduate, originally wrote this story for a global-health reporting class. It was first published by The Seattle Times.

Source: The Seattle Times

Factbox: Ships held by Somali pirates

Here are details of ships still held by Somali pirates after pirates said on Sunday they had released the Greek-owned MV Eagle.

The Eagle was seized last January en route to India from Jordan. It had a crew of 24 Filipinos.

* SOCOTRA 1: Seized on December 25, 2009 in the Gulf of Aden. Yemeni-owned ship had six Yemeni crew.

* ICEBERG 1: Seized on March 29, 2010. Roll-on roll-off vessel captured 10 miles from Aden. Crew of 24.

* JIH-CHUN TSAI 68: Taiwanese fishing vessel seized on March 30. Crew of 14: Taiwanese captain, two Chinese and 11 Indonesians.

* Three Thai fishing vessels -- PRANTALAY 11, 12 and 14 -- hijacked on April 17-18. Total of 77 crew.

* SUEZ: Seized on August 2. Panama-flagged cargo ship hijacked in the Gulf of Aden. Carrying cement. Crew of 23 all from Egypt, 1akistan, Sri Lanka and India.

* OLIB G: Seized on September 8. Maltese-flagged merchant vessel with 18 crew -- 15 Georgians, three Turks.

* CHOIZIL: Seized on October 26. South-African-owned yacht was hijacked after leaving Dar es Salaam. European Union anti-piracy task force rescued one South African but two other crew members were taken ashore and held as hostages.

* POLAR: Seized on Oct 30: Liberian-owned Panama-flagged 72,825-tonne tanker seized 580 miles east of Socotra. Crew of 24 -- one Romanian, three Greeks, four Montenegrins, 16 Filipinos.

* YUAN XIANG: Seized on November 12. Chinese-owned cargo ship captured off Oman. Crew of 29 Chinese.

* ALBEDO: Seized on November 26. Malaysian-owned cargo vessel was taken 900 miles off Somalia as it headed for Mombasa from UAE. Crew of 23 from Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Iran.

* PANAMA: Seized on December 10: Liberian-flagged container ship en route from Tanzania to Beira. Crew of 23 from Myanmar.

* RENUAR: Seized on December 11: Liberian-owned bulk cargo vessel, 70,156 dwt, captured en route to Fujairah from Port Louis. Crew of 24 Filipinos.

* ORNA: Seized on December 20: The Panama-flagged bulk cargo vessel, 27,915 dwt, owned by the United Arab Emirates, was seized 400 miles northeast of the Seychelles.

* SHIUH FU NO 1: Seized December 25: Somali pirates appeared to have seized the Taiwanese-owned fishing vessel near the northeast tip of Madagascar in the Indian Ocean. The vessel had a crew of 26 Taiwanese, Chinese and Vietnamese nationals.

* VEGA 5: Seized before December 31: Somali pirates hijacked the 140 dwt Mozambican-flagged fishing vessel about 200 miles southwest of the Comoros. There were two Spaniards, three Indonesians and 19 Mozambicans on board.

* BLIDA: Seized on January 1, 2011: The 20,586-tonne Algerian-flagged bulk carrier was seized about 150 miles southeast of Salalah, Oman. The ship, with 27 crew from Algeria, Ukraine and the Philippines, was heading to Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, from Salalah with a cargo of clinker.

* HOANG SON SUN: Seized on January 19: The 22,835-tonne bulk carrier, which is Mongolian flagged and Vietnamese-owned and had a crew of 24 Vietnamese nationals, was seized about 520 nautical miles southeast of the port of Muscat.

* SAVINA CAYLYN: Seized on February 8: The 104,255-dwt tanker, Italian-flagged and owned, was on passage to Malaysia from Sudan when it was attacked 670 miles east of Socotra Island. It had five Italians and 17 Indians on board.

* SININ: Seized on February 12: The Maltese owned and registered bulk carrier was seized with a crew of 13 Iranian and 10 Indian nationals in the North Arabian Sea. The 53,000 dwt vessel was on route to Singapore from Fujairah in the United Arab Emirates.

* ALFARDOUS: Seized on February 13: The Yemeni fishing vessel was believed to have been pirated close to Socotra Island in the Gulf of Aden and has a crew of eight.

* DOVER: Seized on February 28: It was taken about 260 nautical miles north east of Salalah in Oman. The Panamanian flagged, Greek owned vessel was on its way to Saleef (Yemen) from Port Quasim (Pakistan) when it was attacked. The crew consists of three Romanians, one Russian and 19 Filipinos.

* SINAR KINDUS: Seized on March 16: The Indonesian flagged and owned bulk cargo carrier was pirated approximately 320 miles North East of Socotra in the Somali Basin. The ship, which carried a crew of 20, was quickly used to launch further attacks.

* ZIRKU: Seized on March 28: The UAE-flagged and Kuwaiti-owned oil tanker, bound for Singapore from Sudan, was pirated approximately 250 nautical miles South East of Salalah in the eastern part of the Gulf of Aden. The 105,846 dwt tanker carried a 29-strong crew including one Croatian, 17 Pakistanis, one Iraqi, one Filipino, one Indian, three Jordanians, three Egyptians and two Ukrainians.

* SUSAN K: Seized on April 8: The German-owned, Antigua and Barbuda-flagged vessel was traveling to Port Sudan from Mumbai in India when it was pirated 200 nautical miles northeast of Salalah, Oman. The 4,450 dwt vessel carried a crew of 10 from Ukraine and the Philippines.

* ROSALIA D'AMATO: Seized on April 21: The Italian-owned bulk carrier was captured 350 miles off the coast of Oman. The 74,500 tone bulk carrier was on its way to Bandar Imam Khomeini in Iran from Brazil with a cargo of soya. The crew consisted of six Italians and 15 Filipinos.

Sources: Reuters/Ecoterra International/International Maritime Bureau Piracy Reporting Center/Lloyds List/Inquirer.net/www.eunavfor.eu/

(Writing by David Cutler, London Editorial Reference Unit)

Friday, April 22, 2011

Two Somali refugees killed in Yemen unrest

“The deceased and injured Somalis were working for Al Mukalla Municipal Council” the Somali official mentioned. He pointed out he thinks the reason of the attack on Somalis is working for Al Mukalla Municipal Council.

At least two Somali refugees have been killed and eight others injured in the latest spate of the deteriorating Yemen unrest, an official said on Thursday.

Hussein Hajji Ahmed, an official from the Somali embassy in Yemen, told state-run Radio Mogadishu that the deaths and injuries of Somali refugees came after a number of Yemeni protesters attacked them in Al Mukalla city in the south of Yemen.

Ahmed didn’t specify why the Somali refugees had come under attack from Yemenis demonstrating against the regime of President Ali Abdalla Saleh.

“The deceased and injured Somalis were working for Al Mukalla Municipal Council,” the Somali official said. He conjectured they were attacked because they worked for the government body.

Ahmed stated that all the injured were immediately taken to a medical facility in the city for treatment, saying that they were suffering from gunshot wounds in the upper parts of their bodies.

As unrest and anti-government protests have intensified in Yemen in the last few months, Somalis who had migrated to Yemen to escape violence in their native country began returning home.

Since March, 110 Somali refugees including women, children and university students, reached the Somali port of Bosaso by boat, which is about 1,500 kilometers (937 miles) north of Mogadishu.

Source: www.allheadlinenews.com
The San Antonio lawyer for a Somali man accused of smuggling suspected terrorists into the United States disputed the government's allegations Thursday, saying his client only sought a better life.

In earlier court filings, federal prosecutors alleged Ahmed Dhakane, 25, was a member of groups the government considers terrorist organizations. They also claim he led a large-scale ring in Brazil that smuggled “violent jihadists” into this country via Texas, by using a network of corrupt officials and teaching his clients to commit asylum fraud.

Prosecutors also contend Dhakane raped a woman who accompanied him as he tried to get asylum after crossing into Brownsville on March 28, 2008. Prosecutors seek 20 years in prison for him. A pre-sentence report recommends 27 years to nearly 34 years.

But Dhakane's lawyer, assistant federal public defender Alfredo Villarreal, filed a sentencing memorandum Thursday that paints Dhakane as one of millions of Somali refugees seeking better lives. Villarreal's filing seeks a sentence closer to 10 years because Dhakane's only proven crimes are two counts of lying to try to get asylum.

Dhakane is set for sentencing on Thursday in a hearing in which counterterrorism agents are expected to testify about the organizations he was allegedly affiliated with — al-Barakaat and Al-Ittihad Al-Islami — and how he fit into them. The government's memo said the groups are affiliated with Somalia-based Al-Shabaab, which has aligned itself with al-Qaida and Osama Bin Laden.

The government in 2008 designated Al-Shabaab a terror organization, part of an insurgency determined to set up an Islamic theocracy in Somalia that has stated its intent to harm the United States.

In his memo, Villarreal reminded U.S. District Judge Xavier Rodriguez that Dhakane did not plead guilty to terrorism charges, and that Dhakane is Christian, not Muslim. It said Dhakane's father was ordered executed in 2006 by an Islamic court because of his belief in secular rule for Somalia. The memo said authorities used information about Somalia and Dhakane that is false or out of context, and no terrorist plot has been uncovered because “there isn't one, and there never was.”

Villarreal's memo questions why the woman is still in contact with Dhakane after raising the rape allegations. The memo also predicted that some of Dhakane's alleged smuggling clients, expected to testify at his sentencing, will say what they think the government wants to hear in hopes of improving their chances of staying in the United States.

On Nov. 2, Dhakane pleaded guilty to two false statement charges: He admitted he mischaracterized how he entered the United States, and that he falsely claimed a woman was his wife so she also could enter the United States.

“The government ... seeks to have Dhakane sentenced not for the proved false statements on the asylum application, but for unsubstantiated claims of terrorism and rape it lodges against Dhakane,” Villarreal wrote.

The memo said Dhakane worked for al-Barakaat, a money remittance system used by Somali expatriates after the collapse of the central banking system in the 1990s. In the wake of the 9/11 attacks, the U.S. government claimed al-Barakaat aided the financing of terrorists, but the system was also used by the United Nations to transmit money to Somalia in support of its relief missions there, Villarreal's memo said, citing studies and the 9/11 Commission Report.

“As the 9/11 commission found, al-Barakaat provided necessary services, and although in the early fervor of the post-9/11 period it had been denounced as a terrorist organization, the 9/11 commission found that label unsubstantiated,” Villarreal wrote.

The memo also said U.S. authorities misconstrued Dhakane's association with members tied to AIAI and other groups that sought to impose an Islamic state in Somalia. For instance, the memo said, Dhakane was imprisoned and mistreated by some of the Islamists after he converted to Christianity in 2002.

“A desire to stay in the United States and away from Somalia ... is what led Dhakane to make false declarations,” Villarreal wrote. “Contrary to the government's speculations ... false declarations, not puffery and speculation, are what Dhakane should be sentenced for.”

Source: www.mysanantonio.com