The Somali government’s appeal for more African Union peacekeepers has encountered steep resistance within the country. That is according to Voice of America.
The US broadcaster says both Islamist insurgents opposing the government and a group of clerics who back the president have spoken out against plans to send additional troops.
For Somalia’s new president, Sheikh Sharif Ahmed, security is priority number one. A moderate Islamist, who has been a teacher and an insurgent leader, President Ahmed enjoys considerable popularity, both within Somalia and abroad.
But hard-line Islamist insurgents control much of the south and central parts of the country and government forces exercise firm control in only a few blocks of the capital, Mogadishu.
President Ahmed on Friday dispatched his foreign minister to the United Nations Security Council to appeal for additional African Union peacekeepers. About 3400 Ugandan and Burundian troops are stationed in Mogadishu, although the mission is authorised to deploy 8000 as part of the AU Mission in Somalia, AMISOM.
However, the presence of the AU troops is encountering growing resistance in the country, from both allies and opponents of the government, VOA says.
Islamist insurgent groups opposed to the government, including al-Shabab and Hizbul Islam, have long rejected the AU presence and have launched sporadic attacks on the peacekeepers.
A group of Islamic scholars and clerics allied with the government have condemned attacks on peacekeepers, but have also called for their departure. Sunday, a leading cleric, Sheikh Ahmed Dhisow, criticized the request for more troops.
He is calling the appeal for the peacekeepers “regrettable”, saying that foreign troops should not be deployed in an independent country.
Islamic clerics had previously called for AU troops to leave in the next few months.
Elders from the country’s largest clan, the Hawiye, have also criticized the call for more troops. Even the government appears divided on the issue. Somalia’s information minister has disputed the foreign minister’s claim that the government is seeking more peacekeepers.
Meanwhile, VOA in a separate report added that the AU’s peacekeeping force in Somalia has reached 50% of authorised strength for the first time, with more reinforcements expected soon.
It reported Sunday that senior AU officials are hailing the arrival of the 4000th peacekeeper in Somalia.
A bomb attack that killed 11 Burundian soldiers last month had prompted speculation the troops might be withdrawn. But AU Peace and Security Commissioner Ramtane Lamamra says the opposite is true. He says negotiations are underway with Rwanda and other troop contributing countries to bring the force up to nearly full strength soon.
“As we speak we are deploying a battalion from Uganda that brings the total strength of AMISOM to 50 percent, for the first time we are above 4,000 so this is quite an achievement … This is already symbolically very important despite the terrorist acts directed against AMISOM,” he said. “The agenda of the day is to strengthen AMISOM not the other way around.”
Lamamra expressed annoyance at news reports that Somali President Sheik Sharif Ahmed is under pressure to order the AMISOM troops home. Speaking on the sidelines of an AU consultative meeting on Somalia, the commissioner said such information is motivated by either ignorance or bad faith.
“Those statements are basically prompted either by genuine ignorance of what the AMISOM role is or by some pre-judged hostile position toward every friendly force that is likely to be there to make sure that Somalia is actually coming out of its crisis and moving forward to reconstitute its government institutions,” he said. “So I would not be worried by the statements either way.”
Uganda has said it is planning to rotate in a new batch of 1700 soldiers in October.
Somalia has long displayed hostility to foreign forces. VOA notes the intervention by American and UN forces in the early 1990s was “famously unsuccessful”.
Ethiopian troops, who entered the country in late 2006 to drive out Islamists who had taken power, left the country early this year after two years of battling Islamist insurgents.
But the government’s alternatives for establishing security are limited. The United Nations maintains an arms embargo on Somalia that limits the fragile government’s ability to build up its military.
Friday, Somalia’s foreign minister asked the Security Council to lift the embargo. The African Union’s Peace and Security Council has issued a similar request
The BBC meanwhile reports a Somali hardline Islamist leader and the country`s information minister have both told Osama Bin Laden not to interfere in Somalia’s affairs.
The al-Qaeda leader on Thursday called for Somalia’s president to be toppled.
Sheik Hassan Dahir Aweys, who denies US charges he has links to al-Qaeda, has been reported as saying only Somalis should decide on their future.
Information Minister Farahan Ali Mohamoud said Bin Laden should concentrate on his own survival.
“We know that bin Laden has his own problems in the mountainous area of Tora Bora where he is hiding, so he has no place making such statements at a time when Somalia is keen to emerge from 21 years violence,” the AFP news agency quoted the information minister as saying.
Bin Laden’s call was published by known militant websites on Thursday, although there has been no independent confirmation of its authenticity.
President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, a moderate Islamist, was inaugurated in January after UN-brokered reconciliation talks. He has promised to introduce Sharia law to the strongly Muslim country. But hardliners in the al-Shabab movement say his version of Sharia will not be strict enough and have continued to fight against his government.
They, and other Islamist groups, now control much of southern and central Somalia.
The 12-minute audio recording of Bin Laden – entitled “Fight on, champions of Somalia” – carried an often-seen image of the al-Qaeda leader with a map of Somalia in the background.
It accused Mr Ahmed of having “changed and turned back on his heels… to partner up with the infidel” in a national unity government.
Ahmed was a leader of the Union of Islamic Courts which controlled Mogadishu in 2006 before being ousted by Ethiopian forces, backing the previous Somali president.