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Friday, July 07, 2006

Expanding Islamists put Somalia on world agenda
by staff writers

afrol News, 20 June - After the Islamic Courts Union drove the warlords out of Somalia's capital Mogadishu and last week advanced to the town of Johwar, world leaders are eager to halt a further advance. While the Islamists are demonstrating Taliban-like tendencies in Mogadishu, Washington still wants to "reserve judgment" on the Courts, but a broad international alliance is nevertheless getting its shape.

During the last two weeks, the agenda of the fragmented Islamic Courts Union - now in control of Greater Mogadishu - is becoming better documented. Even so-called moderate Court leaders such as the union's chairman Sheikh Sherif Sheikh Ahmed have exposed extremist views. In an 'Awdalnews' interview distributed by afrol News, Sheikh Ahmed failed to condemn suicide bombers and the 11 September attack on the US, while condemning press freedom and ridiculing women's working capabilities.

Sheikh Ahmed in the interview also refused to go on distance to the Islamic Court Union leaders that have been put in connection with international terrorism and are presented as Islamist extremists in the Western press. In particular the commander of the Islamist militia, Adan Hashi Ayro, has been outed as a former fighter in Afghanistan and is accused of standing behind the assassination of five foreign aid workers and one foreign journalist and the desecration of the Italian cemetery in Mogadishu.

In Mogadishu, city residents still are happy about the significant increase in personal security, law and order. Thus, there are still no widespread protests against the new, reported limitations of personal freedom imposed by several Islamic courts. Residents have already been detained and punished for "un-Islamic" behaviour such as watching the football World Cup, wearing Rasta hair and doing their work as a journalist.

The Islamist leader however has made another important signal by writing reconciling letters to the US and other Western powers, saying the Islamic Courts Union does not seek confrontation with Washington and does not support international terrorism. "We share no objectives, goals or methods with groups that sponsor or support terrorism," Mr Ahmed assured in an open letter.

Assistant Secretary for African Affairs of the US State Department, Jendayi Frazer, thus had to resort to diplomacy when asked about Washington's impression about the Islamic Courts Union. "We are reserving judgment," she said on Friday. "You certainly can't make a judgment based on two letters," Ms Frazer concluded, but also made reference to three Islamists put in connection with terrorist attacks against the US in East Africa, who have found refuge in Mogadishu.

Burned by the unhappy US operation in Somalia in 1993 and trying hard to improve relations with Europe after the unpopular attack on Iraq, Washington is seeking alternative ways to stop the expansion of the Islamists in Somalia. While earlier supporting the warlords fight the Islamists, the US now wants to assure the survival of the weak transitional government of President Abdullahi Yusuf, an anti-Islamist based in the town of Baidoa.

Washington, while lamenting the very limited influence and strength of the transitional government, now emphasises it is not supporting anybody else than transition President Yusuf. US State Department Deputy Spokesman Adam Ereli today even advised Washington's closest ally in the region, Ethiopia, against "further destabilising or inflaming the situation" in Somalia, knowing that a possible incursion by the arch-enemy Ethiopia could mean the end of the transitional government.

The US is however also trying hard to build up an international coalition - including its fiercest critics of the Iraq war - to be watchful on Somalia. Norway last week had been given the role of leading a so-called "Somalia Contact Group", US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice revealed. The group - which also included the US, UK, EU, Sweden and Italy - only had one African member; Tanzania. Kenya, which had brokered the Somali peace for the last years, was not invited.

The purpose of the Contact Group "is to coordinate our policy on Somalia so that we can support the transitional federal institutions," announced Ms Frazer. The impression was given that the potential donor countries could help the transitional government to start providing safety and social services in parts of the country, thus preventing a possible popular uprising in favour of the Islamic Courts Union in large parts of Somalia.

Also the UN is involved in the attempt to halt the expansion of the courts. François Lonsény Fall, the UN Envoy to Somalia, yesterday warned that a further expansion of the Islamists may soon add "a regional dimension" to the warfare. Mr Fall is assisting the transitional government in its aims to negotiate with the Islamists while they still may be lured into a power-sharing deal.

© afrol News

Category: Somalia and Terrorism.

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