Islamist leader accused of Somali clashes

May 13, 2009 12:00 am

, ADDIS ABABA, May 13 – The United Nations’ top envoy for Somalia blamed Islamist leader Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys Wednesday for recent fighting in Mogadishu and accused him of seeking to topple the country’s government.

"Aweys came to take power and topple a legitimate regime," Ahmedou Ould Abdallah told reporters on the sidelines of a meeting on Somalia at the African Union’s headquarters in Addis Ababa.

"The attacks of the past few days, all that has happened in Mogadishu lately, it’s an attempt to seize power by force, it’s a coup attempt," he said.

Clashes that started last week between forces loyal to the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) of President Sharif Sheikh Ahmed and radical forces including members of the Shebab group have left some 100 people dead.

Aweys and Sharif were two of the Islamist leaders who took over most of Somalia in 2006 before being ousted by an Ethiopian invasion in support of the TFG.

Sharif eventually joined the UN-sponsored reconciliation process based in Djibouti and was elected Somalia’s president in January, days after Ethiopia completed its military pullout.

Aweys has always rejected the Djibouti process and returned from exile in Eritrea last month, vowing he would continue to oppose the government so long as African Union peacekeepers remained on Somali soil.

The Shebab, originally the Islamist movement’s youth branch, has radicalised over the past two years and has targeted Sharif’s government in recent months.

Ould Abdallah dismissed the idea that the Shebab was an organised political force and insisted that pro-government forces had repelled the danger.

"The Shebab are a ragtag alliance which is showing its true colours now. From their perspective, it’s not a political or a religious struggle but an economic one designed to protect often shady business interests," he said.

"If they were as powerful as they claim to be and as their intermediaries in Nairobi say, why haven’t they conquered the capital?" UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s representative argued.

"It’s nothing more than a rebellion combatting a legitimate government which admittedly is weak but still holds power and needs to be supported."

The Shebab movement and its allies control most of southern Somalia and have launched waves of guerrilla attacks in Mogadishu to destablise the transitional administration.

The president’s forces control little more than a few districts in Mogadishu.

"The Shebab’s attack was defeated. The situation is under control," the African Union peace and security commissioner Ramtane Lamamra said at the same meeting in Addis Ababa.

Lamamra said that the Shebab had deployed heavy military equipment and received the assistance of foreign fighters.

On Tuesday, Ould Abdallah and an official from the Somali president’s camp both condemned the growing presence of Al Qaeda-inspired foreign fighters in the Horn of Africa country.

A senior Shebab leader admitted his movement was receiving foreign help.

According to Somali security officials and foreign intelligence sources in the region, extremist fighters have flocked to Somalia since the start of the year and currently number around 500.


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