A former Islamist militant in Somalia running for a regional presidency, putting him at odds with the central government, was arrested and beaten, precipitating street clashes, his spokesman said.
South West will be the first of Somalia’s seven semi-autonomous regions to hold presidential elections in the coming months, a critical juncture in a growing power struggle in the aftermath of a long civil war
“Candidate Sheikh Mukhtar (Robow) was beaten and arrested by Ethiopian peacekeeping forces in Baidoa,” said Muawiya Mudeey, a spokesman for Robow.
“First he was called in by South West state interim president and when he reached that office, Ethiopian forces beat and arrested him. Now there is fighting between residents and government forces in Baidoa.”
Regional officials in state capital Baidoa could not immediately be reached for comment.
Mohamed Aden, a local elder, said Ethiopian and local Somali security forces participated in Robow’s arrest. “We do not know the reason but think it is because of politics,” Aden told Reuters.
“There is no fighting now but tension is high in Baidoa and anything can happen. I mean, war can start anytime.”
Robow, a prominent former al Shabaab insurgent and group spokesman, lay low for several years before publicly renouncing violence and recognising the authority of the US-backed federal government in August 2017.
The Mogadishu government tried to bar his presidential candidacy in South West because of remaining US sanctions against him. The state electoral commission last month dismissed Mogadishu’s demands and accepted his candidacy.
On December 1 the commission postponed South West’s vote for the third time, saying it was not sufficiently prepared amid lingering tensions with Mogadishu.
Somalia has been clawing its way out of the remnants of the civil war that engulfed it in 1991, when clan warlords overthrew a dictator and then turned on each other.
Al Shabaab has sought for more than a decade to topple the central government in Mogadishu and implement its strict version of Islamic law. It was driven out of the capital in 2011 but retains a strong presence in some areas including South West.