Somalia: Government unwelcome in Jowhar, faction leader says

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

NAIROBI, 15 June (IRIN) - The faction leader who controls the town Jowhar in south-central Somalia said on Tuesday that interim President Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed's Transitional Federal Government (TFG) was no longer welcome in the town.

The announcement came after the faction leader, Muhammad Omar Habeb, spent the better part of Monday at the airstrip in Jowhar, waiting for Yusuf's arrival. However, Yusuf's plane did not land in Jowhar as it was diverted to the neighbouring country of Djibouti.

Habeb, popularly known as Muhammad-dhere, was apparently angry because Yusuf went to Djibouti after leaving the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, instead of Jowhar, as planned, a local source said.

Muhammad-dhere, who had mobilised "the entire town" to welcome Yusuf, and his entourage "was at the airstrip for over eight hours waiting for them," Abdikarim Omar, a local journalist working for Radio Jowhar, said on Wednesday.

While the change of Yusuf's itinerary could have been perceived as a snub by those on the ground in Jowhar, Dahir Mire, the permanent secretary in the office of the president, said on Wednesday that Yusuf's plane was diverted to Djibouti due to insufficient lighting at the Jowhar airstrip.

"We were simply late and the plane could not land on a dark airstrip," he said.

Yusuf is not the only TFG member who did not give Muhammad-dhere an explanation.

"He was also angered by Prime Minister Ali Muhammad Gedi's announcement in an interview that he would go to Mogadishu instead of Jowhar," Abdikarim said.

At a news conference at his residence in Jowhar on Tuesday, Muhammad-dhere said he would support the government's relocation to Mogadishu, "but made it clear that he does not want the TFG to come to Jowhar," Abdikarim said.

"Jowhar does not have the capacity to host the government," Muhammad-dhere was quoted as saying.

The towns of Jowhar, 90 km north of Mogadishu, and Baidoa, 240 km southwest of the capital, respectively, are the two Somali towns to which the interim government wanted to relocate to temporarily, until Mogadishu was pacified and secured.

At least 100 members of the 275-strong parliament, led by Speaker Sharif Hassan Shaykh Aden, are in Mogadishu in a bid to stabilise the city. They have been convincing faction leaders to disarm and encamp their militias.

Since the TFG was established in October 2004 in Nairobi, it had announced plans to relocate temporarily to Jowhar and Baidoa several times but remained in the Kenyan capital. The administration had come under increasing pressure recently from the Kenyan government and western diplomats to put their plans into action.

Yusuf's departure on Monday was a show of the government's resolve to return to Somalia.

Muhammad-dhere's new stand, however, "calls into question the TFG's ability to complete the relocation process," a regional analyst, who declined to be named, said on Wednesday.

"The TFG has to come up with a new plan for the relocation. It really does not look good," the analyst said.

However, Mire maintained the government's plan to relocate to Jowhar still stood.

"There is nothing to this incident," he said. "It is already resolved and in the past, and the entire government, including the president, will go to Jowhar."


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