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Somalis’ hopes for secure homeland dashed
By: Said Sheik-Abdi
Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder
Originally posted 1/10/2007

Recent developments cause disappointment, spark protests

Six months ago, the Islamic Courts Union (ICU) drove Somali warlords backed by the U.S. Bush administration out of many cities in Somalia, including Mogadishu, the capital city and one of the poorest and most dangerous cities in the world. A majority of Somalis, both in the country and in the diaspora, felt relief in their hearts and hope for their motherland for the first time since 1991 despite some strict laws imposed by the courts. They wanted stability for their country, and ICU was promising it.

But their hopes ended last month when the Somali Transitional Government (STG), composed of some warlords previously ousted by the courts, came back with the help of troops from Somalia’s old enemy Ethiopia, forcing the ICU to flee from key cities in the country. Hundreds of people were killed in this conflict while many more were displaced and are still starving to death.

This has resulted in a majority of local Somalis not only becoming disappointed with STG leaders for bringing Ethiopian troops onto Somali soil without the approval of its citizens and the international community, but also “making the Somali situation more complicated and more anarchy than ever before,” says Jama Farah, an elderly Somali living in the Twin Cities who attended a recent Somali demonstration in Minneapolis against the Ethiopian troops.

Since then, demonstrations, turmoil, and insecurity have become part of daily life in Mogadishu.

In the past, many news organizations, including the New York Times, reported that the U.S. government gave tacit approval to Ethiopia’s military action, while many other countries and a majority of Somalis believe that Ethiopian troops violated international law and must leave Somalia as soon as possible. Ethiopia, for its part, is worried about having a strong Islamic regime next door.

On Monday, Somalia’s transitional president, Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed, protected by his troops and those from Ethiopia, entered Mogadishu for the first time since he was elected in Nairobi in 2004.

The African Union, the U.S., and the European Union are working together for possible deployment of 8,000 mainly African troops to Somalia for a peacekeeping mission. These troops are expected to replace the controversial Ethiopian troops who are already in the heart of Somalia.

But the question of whether African troops will be able to stabilize this country when United Nations troops with much power failed to do the same job more a decade ago remains unanswered for many local Somalis.

“I do not see any reason that African troops are capable of peacekeeping in Somalia. They are just going there for financial reasons only,” says Abdirahman Ali, a Somali student in the Twin Cities.

In the past, U.S. authorities have accused the ICU of hiding suspected Al Qaeda operatives accused of the 1998 bombings of the U.S. Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. The ICU denied the allegation.

Just last week, according to the Associated Press, Al Qaeda’s deputy leader urged Somalis to attack Ethiopian troops. “I speak to you today as the crusader Ethiopian invasion forces violate the soil of the beloved Muslim Somalia,” said Ayman al-Zawahri.

In response to this, a U.S. gunship has attacked suspected Al Qaeda targets in southern Somalia, a senior official told CNN on Monday.

Many local Somalis are not optimistic about the current situation in their homeland. They accuse transitional government leaders of inviting Ethiopian troops onto Somali soil, bringing back to power criminal warlords who were responsible for the death of thousands of innocent Somalis, and declining to negotiate with the Islamic Courts Union.

Before he flew to Mogadishu, Somali President Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed told Al Jazeera television that he would not hold talks with the ICU. However, Sheik Sharif Hassan Aden, speaker of Somalia’s transitional parliament, while talking to the Associated Press, invited the ICU to participate in the peace process. This is an early indication of possible disagreement between the president and the speaker.

Recently, the transitional government delayed tactics to forcefully disarm the Somali capital, Mogadishu, until further notice, as hundreds of demonstrators confirmed they would not hand over their weapons to the government.

In past years, the Somali war was categorized as a clan-based civil war, but now the country has become a battleground not only for Somalis but also involving foreign countries. Unless the United Nations is able to fulfill its peacekeeping responsibilities and the so-called Somali leaders become nation-minded rather clan-minded, Somalia is far from peace and prosperity.

Said Sheik Abdi welcomes reader responses to [email protected].

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