* Militants melt away from at least two towns - residents
* Rebels urge Somalis to fight a holy war
By Mohamed Ahmed
MOGADISHU, Nov 21 (Reuters) - Al Shabaab militants have begun pulling out of
at least two rebel enclaves in central Somalia after neighbouring Ethiopia
sent hundreds of troops across the border, residents said on Monday.
Addis Ababa denied on Sunday that its forces had entered yet Somalia, but
local residents and elders said scores of Ethiopian vehicles ferrying troops
and weapons moved at least 80 km (50 miles) into the Horn of Africa country
over the weekend.
Local people in Beledweyne and Ceelbuur, both close to the Ethiopian
frontier and under insurgent control, said the Islamist fighters had
abandoned checkpoints where they used to extort taxes and left their battle
"I saw a convoy of al Shabaab troops vacating the front lines," said a
resident of Ceelbuur, who identified himself only as Ahmed. "I don't know
where (the fighters) are headed, but they aren't in the town any longer."
An Ethiopian foreign ministry spokesman said a decision on whether to join
the assault against al Shabaab in some form would be taken on Friday at a
meeting of east African heads of state.
However, the residents said the Ethiopian military had already arrived, five
weeks after Kenya launched an operation to crush the al Qaeda-linked
The disappearance of al Shabaab fighters from zones close to where Ethiopian
troops were stationed does not necessarily signify an all-out retreat.
Many rebels appeared to melt away into the local population when Kenya sent
hundreds of ground troops into southern Somalia last month and began an
early wave of air strikes against the militants it blames for a wave of
kidnappings on its soil.
Since then they appear to have re-grouped, engaging Kenyan troops in
hit-and-run attacks that, together with heavy rains, have hampered the
Kenyan advance on rebel bases.
The last time Ethiopia entered Somalia was in December, 2006, with tacit
U.S. backing and at the invitation of a Somali government that had lost
control of large swathes of the country, including the capital, to another
They left in early 2009 after ousting that group, winning backing in some
corners of the country, but inspiring considerable support among others for
its offshoot, al Shabaab.
In Ceelbuur, the Ethiopians are widely seen as liberators. "Al Shabaab call
for holy war, but they start running when they hear Ethiopia," resident
"Now we don't see a lot of al Shabaab fighters in the town. I am sure they
are preparing to run away when the Ethiopian troops close in on the town,"
said Faduma Hassan, a resident in Beledweyne, about 30 km from the border.
Al Shabaab, which is fighting to impose a harsh interpretation of sharia law
on the nation, welcomed on Sunday Ethiopia's apparent incursion as a sign
that the Kenyan military campaign was failing to dismantle the rebel
In Baidoa, about 250 km northwest of the capital Mogadishu, al Shabaab
issued a rallying cry for holy war.
"Al Shabaab took to the streets with loud speakers and urged us to prepare
for Jihad," said Ali, a Baidoa resident. "They have been warning us not to
spy for the Ethiopians or for the government." (Additional reporting by Abdi
Sheikh; editing by Richard Lough and David Stamp)
EXCLUSIVE-UK security firms take up arms against pirates
Mon Nov 21, 2011 5:05pm GMT
By Neil Maidment and Myles Neligan
LONDON Nov 21 (Reuters) - Security firms led by G4S are providing armed
guards to ships sailing pirate-infested Somali waters, with one start-up
kitting out a gunboat to lead World War II style convoys, as shipowners step
up their response to constant attacks.
G4S, which provides services ranging from airport and sports event security
to prison management and cash transportation, has been in the vessel
security market since 2003, but only recently switched to using armed
"We've been doing it at an increasing level basically as a response to
customer demand because of the threat posed off the coast of Somalia and the
Indian Ocean generally," a G4S spokesman told Reuters, adding that the FTSE
100 firm sees combating pirates as a big commercial opportunity.
G4S, currently serving two large Far Eastern shipowners, said it may also
offer armed protection to shipping off the west coast of Africa and the
Strait of Malacca, off Malaysia, both scenes of increasing pirate activity.
The switch in favour of armed vessel security comes after Britain and the
United States last month reversed their opposition to it amid growing
acceptance that weapons could be the best deterrent to Somali gangs who have
been seizing ships and holding their crews and cargo to ransom for the last
Traditionally, shipping companies and their insurers have fretted that
having armed personnel onboard boats could escalate violence in the event of
a pirate attack.
Other private security contractors offering protection against pirates
include Typhon, a start-up chaired by Simon Murray, the ex-military chairman
of commodities trading giant Glencore.
Typhon, backed by two major Asian shipping companies, plans to protect
convoys of up to ten ships with an armed vessel complete with helicopter,
chief executive and founder Anthony Sharpe told Reuters.
"There are some guys that say they don't like arms because it escalates the
situation, but sadly it's a necessary evil. It does deter piracy," Sharpe
A report earlier this year estimated that maritime piracy costs the global
economy between $7 billion and $12 billion through higher shipping costs and
The International Maritime Organisation said it does not condone or condemn
the use of armed guards, but has issued guidelines for shipowners who do
decide to seek armed protection.
G4S said it was providing armed protection, as well as tactical and
strategic advice on board large vessels such as oil tankers and container
ships. It said it had averted a number of attempted pirate attacks in the
Indian Ocean in recent months.
Somali pirates were holding as many as 16 vessels hostage as of Nov. 7,
including the Blida, a 20,586-tonne Algerian-flagged carrier with 27 crew
Earlier this year, a seafaring Somali gang seized the oil tanker Irene
almost 1,000 miles from the coast of Somalia in their most long-range attack
G4S, which is worth around 3.3 billion pounds, made headlines earlier this
month after scrapping a planned 5.2 billion pounds ($8.2 billion)
acquisition of Danish cleaning firm ISS following investor opposition to the
company moving away from its security heritage. ($1 = 0.633 British Pounds)
(Editing by Jon Loades-Carter)
C Thomson Reuters 2011 All rights reserved
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Received on Mon Nov 21 2011 - 18:21:43 EST