Rebel, army clashes kill nine in Somalia's Puntland
Sat Mar 3, 2012 5:48pm GMT
* Attack follows alliance with Puntland militia
* Leaders to meet in Ethiopia to finalise expanded AU deployment
* Would-be suicide bomber dies in Mogadishu
By Abdiqani Hassan
BOSASSO, Somalia, March 3 (Reuters) - Islamist al Shabaab rebels attacked
soldiers from Somalia's semi-autonomous Puntland region, leaving at least
nine people dead on Saturday, officials said, in the latest sign of a
resurgence by the militants in the area.
Al Shabaab promised last week to step up action in the northern Puntland
area - a territory which up to now has escaped the worst of Somalia's
turmoil - after merging with another militant group there.
The new alliance could mark set-back for international forces from the
African Union, Kenya and Ethiopia, who have been making gains against the Al
Qaeda-backed movement in other parts of the anarchic Horn of Africa nation.
Al Shabaab, fighting to impose a harsh interpretation of Islamic sharia law,
has said it wants to control Puntland and scrap the licenses of Western oil
and gas firms drilling in the area.
Al Shabaab told Reuters it attacked a checkpoint manned by soldiers from
Puntland's semi-autonomous government on Friday night and fighting carried
on into Saturday.
"We first attacked their checkpoint near Bosasso last night. Then this
morning they attacked us at Baliqadar, 40 km to the east of Bosasso. We also
burnt three of their armed vehicles using landmines," the group's military
spokesman sheikh Abdiasis Abu Musab, said.
He said the group, which has been fighting a five year war against Somalia's
Western-backed government, had killed 32 Puntland soldiers and lost three of
its own fighters.
Local officials gave a lower death count. "We received nine dead people and
six others were wounded. These include five dead bodies of al Shabaab and
three other injured ones who are being kept in the hospital by police,"
Abdiqadir Mohamud, a doctor at Bosasso Hospital, told Reuters.
In January, Canadian oil and gas exploration company Africa Oil Corp. began
drilling an exploratory well in Puntland, the first to be sunk in the
country since civil war erupted two decades ago.
Africa Oil and its partners in the two Puntland licences, Australia's Red
Emperor and Range Resources.
Al Shabaab has been losing ground around the Somali capital, Mogadishu, to
African Union troops and territory in parts of southern and central Somalia
to Kenyan and Ethiopian forces.
EXPANDING AU FORCE
About 9,000 Ugandan and Burundian troops in the AU's AMISOM force support
the shaky Western-backed government and now control much of Mogadishu, after
seizing a major al Shabaab base on Friday.
Last week, the U.N. Security Council voted to expand AMISOM to nearly 18,000
soldiers and incorporate Kenyan forces already in Somalia.
African political and military leaders will meet in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
next week to iron out the finer details of how the expanded force will
operate, Kenyan army colonel Cyrus Oguna told reporters in Nairobi.
Oguna said Kenya had conducted two air strikes inside Somalia last week near
the border, killing several al Shabaab fighters, he added.
He said AMISOM was supposed to keep the peace across Somalia, including
Puntland, but it was not clear which troops will be assigned to the area.
"After the meeting that is held in Addis Ababa next week, we will be able to
know Puntland falls into which sector," he said.
In another incident in Mogadishu, a would-be suicide bomber died on Saturday
after his car prematurely exploded at a checkpoint near a base used by
Burundian AU peacekeepers, witnesses said.
One man jumped out of the car before it exploded and was now being
questioned, Colonel Nur Hayr, a senior police officer in charge of Hodan
District, told Reuters. (Additional reporting by George Obulutsa in Nairobi
and Abdi Sheikh and Feisal Omar in Mogadishu; Editing by Andrew Heavens)
BAIDOA, Somalia, March 4 (Reuters) - After three years of killings and
violence under the rule of al Shabaab rebels, residents of the Somali city
of Baidoa said they were happy to see the arrival of Ethiopian soldiers,
whose presence they once resented.
Under al Shabaab's control, Baidoa's leaders say the city's people became
poorer, conditions worsened and many were forced to flee. The return of
Ethiopian troops, once seen as Christian invaders in a Muslim country, was a
Ethiopian and Somali troops seized the city from al Shabaab insurgents last
month, in a major blow to the militants battling Somalia's weak interim
Somalia has been in turmoil since warlords toppled dictator Mohamed Siad
Barre in 1991. Fighting has killed more than 21,000 people since al Shabaab
launched its insurgency in 2007.
"Al Shabaab colonised us for three years and 12 days. Many of us were
killed, many of us were displaced and many have migrated. So we are the
survivors," Mohammed Ma'alim Barhi, a clan leader, told reporters in the
city 250 km northwest of Mogadishu.
"They (Ethiopian troops) have entered here three times before. Now we like
them, we support them and we are with them."
Al Shabaab, which announced in February that it was merging with al Qaeda,
imposed a harsh interpretation of Islamic sharia law. In areas under its
control, music, movies and soccer were banned and people were beheaded or
had limbs amputated as punishments.
"Before, there was a strong propaganda against the Ethiopians but these
three years there are many things the people saw. There was over-taxation,
they are killing people," Abdifatah Mohamed Gesey, governor for Bay region,
said of the insurgents.
"After we arrived here we held discussions with the elders, business people
and the women's associations. They have asked us to liberate nearby towns
just as we liberated Baidoa."
Gesey, who fled after al Shabaab took over the region, said people were now
returning to the city to reopen businesses.
'ALMOST GAME OVER'
Ethiopian and Somali troops said they were welcomed by residents who
volunteered to show them where al Shabaab fighters were hiding, and found
abandoned ordnance everywhere, from government offices to mosques, police
stations to main roads.
"The enemy forces were disoriented and disintegrated. They were incapable,"
said General Yohannes Gebre-Giorgis, Commander of the Ethiopian Forces in
"The people have now deserted them. So there is no way they can survive
here. It is almost game over for al Shabaab."
Baidoa residents said their most immediate priority was meeting basic needs
like food. "We need international help. Our people are very angry. Our
people are hungry and we don't have medicine," Barhi said.
Baidoa Palace, a bullet-riddled building once the main seat of Somalia's
interim government until 2009, is now a command centre for Ethiopian troops.
Its windows have been shattered by gunfire and graffiti scrawled on its
walls. The rest of the town is dotted with abandoned houses and destroyed
Ethiopia's military presence in Somalia between late 2006 and early 2009,
when it routed another Islamist administration from power, provoked massive
resentment among Somalis and galvanized support for the militant Islamists.
Ethiopia sent troops across the border again in November to open up a third
front against the militants, who are also fighting 9,000 Ugandan and
Burundian troops under the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) and
Last week, the U.N. Security Council voted to expand AMISOM, which supports
the shaky Western-backed government, to nearly 18,000 soldiers, and will
include Kenyan troops.
African political and military leaders will meet in Ethiopia next week to
iron out the details of how the expanded force will operate, Kenyan army
colonel Cyrus Oguna told reporters in Nairobi. (Additional reporting and
writing by George Obulutsa; Editing by Karolina Tagaris)
C Thomson Reuters 2012 All rights reserved
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Received on Sun Mar 04 2012 - 16:27:01 EST