“Holy war” on the AU?

The Somali al-Shabaab has ordered its fighters and Somalis to intensify its “holy war” against African Union (AU) peacekeepers in Mogadishu, the Shabelle Media Network reports.
The news service says al-Shabaab spokesman Sheikh Mukhtar Robow Abu Mansoor made the call at a press conference in the southern port city of Baidoa a day after AU Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) troops were accused of killing about 40 civilians in the capital Mogadishu.
al-Shabaab is the military wing of the Islamic Courts Union that has sought to impose a strict form of sharia law on the war-torn country.   
“I call on the Somali people and the insurgents to attack the AU troops, who massacred our people,” said Abu Mansoor.
“You are not peacekeepers, you are peace destroyers and you came to our country to massacre our innocent civilians as you did yesterday. I call to the AU troops to pull out our country immediately or they will face strong resistance,” he added.
According to Somali government officials, AU peacekeepers sprayed gunfire in a busy road on Monday after one of their vehicles was targeted by a roadside bomb blast.
The deputy mayor of Mogadishu said at least 39 civilians were killed by AU fire while other sources put the figure about 42.
AMISOM spokesman Major Bahuko Baridgye denied the allegations and said that the roadside bomb explosion had killed three civilians and wounded one of their soldiers.
The AU force comprises around 3,500 Ugandan and Burundian troops.
The United Nations is mulling whether to “upgrade” AMISOM to a UN mission. The last UN mission to Somalia, UNOSOM III, ended in fiasco in 1995.         
The US news service Voice of America, meanwhile adds from Addis Ababa that the reports of the shooting are false.
It quotes UN Special Representative for Somalia Ahmedou Ould Abdallah as saying “the story is designed to distract attention from positive developments in the country.”
He is also calling for a moratorium on reports written outside Somalia based on information supplied by local Somali journalists.

Abdallah says he does not know the exact details of Monday’s incident as he is in neighbouring Ethiopia where he is introducing Somalia’s newly elected president Sheikh Sharif Sheik Ahmed at an AU summit.

In an interview with VOA he suggested the report was contrived. He called it part of a media war to discredit peace efforts in Somalia, and compared it to the radio station Mille Collines, which incited the Rwandan genocide a generation ago.
“What happened is to divert attention from what is going on here, and as usual to use the media to repeat Radio Mille Collines, to repeat the genocide in Rwanda,” said Abdallah. “We had a good election. The president had a good welcome. He is trying to work closely with the region.”

AU officials in Addis Ababa declined to comment on the report, asking for more time to investigate.

But AU Commission chairman Jean Ping issued a statement strongly suggesting the reports were false. “The statement made no mention of shooting, but condemned in the strongest terms what was called an explosion that claimed the lives of several persons’, describing it as a ‘barbaric and cowardly act by extremist elements opposed to peace and reconciliation’,” VOA said.

Abdallah noted that few international news agencies actually have reporters in Somalia, but base their stories on information supplied by Somali journalists there. He charged most of the journalists have been compromised through threats and intimidation, and called for a moratorium on second-hand reporting about events in Somalia.
“There is a need to have a truce, one month truce in reporting on Somalia,” he said. “There is a need to double check the sources with your correspondent. Because they live under tremendous pressure. I am sure they are professionals. They would like to help their country. But the time has come for one month truce on reporting till there is double, triple checking, because Somalia is exceptional. We have to have exceptional checking of the news.”

China`s Xinhua agency adds that Ugandan Defense Minister Crispus Kiyonga has also denied the allegations. Kiyonga was quoted by the state-owned New Vision daily saying that he doubted whether it was the AU soldiers who had opened fire on the civilians.
The defense minister said he had asked the commandant of the AMISON, Maj. Gen. Francis Okello, to explain the involvement of the Ugandan army in the incident. If the explanation was not sufficient, a board of inquiry would be instituted, he added.
Six Ugandan peacekeepers have been killed since the first Ugandan contingent was deployed in the lawless country in March 2007. AMISOM has an authorized strength of 8000 but less than half the figure has been deployed.
Uganda has decided to deploy another battalion of about 700 soldiers in the volatile country to fill a vacuum created by Ethiopia’s withdrawal last month.
The VOA adds the new Somali leader has pledged to counter the lawlessness and piracy that has characterised Somalia’s position as a failed state. “We would like to assure our full cooperation with the international community to do away with piracy, which has really damaged the Somalis more than anyone else,” he said. “Yet we believe the solution is on the territory and not on the sea. And the Somali forces will carry out this job.”
At sea
Reuters reports that pirates may again have struck offshore. A ship owned by Al Rashid Shipping Dubai is reported to be missing and may have been seized.
“It has been reported that the vessel … is missing or has been detained in Somali waters on account of a commercial dispute between the owner and other interested parties,” Andrew Mwangura, of the East African Seafarers Assistance Programme, said in an email to Reuters.
The ship had a crew of 14 Indians but there were no other details yet, he said. In Dubai, an official at Al Rashid Shipping declined to comment on the report.
Last week, pirates off Somalia hijacked a German-owned tanker carrying highly-flammable liquefied petroleum gas. Another captured vessel, a Ukrainian ship carrying 33 tanks, could be released this week after pirates receive a $3 million ransom.
The MV Faina — the highest-profile of a dozen ships being held off Somalia — was captured in September with its 20-man crew and a cargo of Soviet-era T-72 tanks plus other weapons.
Somali gunmen hijacked more than 120 ships in one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes last year. Patrols by international navies off Somalia were thought to have cut sea hijackings but three other captures this year shows the pirates are still active, Reuters says.
Xinhua adds that Japan’s Maritime Self-Defense Force (MSDF) will next month dispatch two destroyers on an anti-piracy mission to Somali waters.
It identifies the destroyers as the 4650-ton Sazanami (Takanami class) and 4550-ton Samidare (Murasame class) of the 8th Escort Division of the 4th Escort Flotilla based at Kure near Hiroshima.