Somalia disarmament starts, Kenya blocks Islamists

Report
from Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
Published on 02 Jan 2007
By C. Bryson Hull and Sahal Abdulle

MOGADISHU, Jan 2 (Reuters) - Somalia's victorious government set up gun collection points in Mogadishu on Tuesday at the start of a drive to disarm one of the world's most dangerous cities after the defeat of a six-month rule by Islamists.

Neighbouring Kenya sent security forces to its long and porous northeastern border area, closing the net on defeated Somali Islamic Courts Council (SICC) fighters who retreated after a two-week war in the volatile Horn of Africa nation.

The government has told Mogadishu residents to hand over their weapons by Thursday or be forcibly disarmed. Aided by Ethiopian planes, tanks and troops, the government days ago drove the Islamists from the city they controlled since June.

"Everybody will be disarmed. There will be no sacred cows," Information Minister Ali Jama Jangali said. However, at a collection point seen by Reuters, not one gun had been handed in by midday.

The SICC briefly pacified Mogadishu by enforcing sharia law.

Stabilising the city again is the first priority of the interim government whose legitimacy hinges on installing itself in the capital and restoring central rule for the first time since the 1991 overthrown of dictator Mohamed Siad Barre.

The task is complicated by the return of warlords hoping to restore fiefdoms they ran before the SICC chased them out.

Despite a U.N. arms embargo, a proliferation of weapons has made the war-scarred capital on the Indian Ocean one of the most gun-infested cities in the world.

Government officials said people were starting to hand over weapons to the interim government, set up in 2004 in the 14th attempt to restore central rule in as many years.

SICC spokesman Abdirahim Ali Mudey, speaking from a hideout, poured scorn on the government's disarmament drive, saying it would be unable to unite Somalia's clan-based society.

"Somalis will not relinquish their arms voluntarily. Some clans will fight back because trust does not yet exist," Mudey said by telephone, without revealing his location.

"KENYA AT RISK"

After fleeing their last stronghold in the southern port of Kismayu on Monday in the face of an Ethiopian bombardment, Islamist fighters and leaders have moved further south.

The government has offered them an amnesty.

"Anyone who hands in his weapon will be forgiven. It will be their choice to join the government forces," Somalia's defence minister, Colonel Abdikadir Adan Shire, also known as Barre Hiraale, told a huge victory rally in Kismayu on Tuesday.

As thousands of residents cheered and waved placards, some saying "Welcome to Peace", Shire urged Kismayu residents to surrender weapons they had looted from an Islamist arsenal.

South of Kismayu, where the Islamists are on the run, Nairobi is trying to seal its border and stop refugees.

"We are telling them to return and help build their country," said regional police boss Antony Kibuchi.

Kenyan police were questioning eight suspected Islamist fighters who had crossed the border.

"The national security of Kenya is at stake, the Islamists could bring their war into Kenya," immigration officer Chese Ruto said from Liboi police station on the border.

Residents say some Islamist fighters have re-grouped in the hilly Buur Gaabo region, just on the Somali side of the border.

Somali Interior Minister Hussein Mohamed Farah Aideed -- son of a warlord who fought U.S. troops when they intervened disastrously in the early 1990s -- said SICC leaders were in the coastal village of Ras Kamboni.

Despite the Kenyan measures, it would not be hard for Islamist fighters to slip over the border, given the length of the frontier, the desolate nature of the terrain, and the fact that ethnic Somalis live on the Kenyan side, analysts say.

Nairobi said it was doing all it could to prevent that.

"Kenya cannot be a haven for people not wanted by their lawful government," government spokesman Alfred Mutua said.

Warships from the Djibouti-based U.S. counterterrorism Joint Task Force were patrolling the sea off Somalia to stop SICC leaders or foreign militant supporters escaping, diplomats said.

Somalia's government, which had little authority beyond its base in the provincial town of Baidoa until Ethiopia's military intervention, now wants African peacekeepers to help it.

Despite the Islamists' surprisingly quick flight, analysts and diplomats say the conflict may be far from over.

The Islamists, joined by some foreign fighters, may launch an Iraqi-style insurgency against a government they see as propped up by a hated and Christian-led foreign power.

(Additional reporting by Guled Mohamed in Mogadishu, George Obulutsa, Nico Gnecchi, David Mageria, Andrew Cawthorne in Nairobi)

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