Somali parliament declares state of emergency

/ Source: Reuters

Somalia’s parliament declared on Saturday a three-month state of emergency amid fears of a return to clan violence after weeks of war ousted Islamists.

Members of parliament in the government’s interim seat of Baidoa — its home until Ethiopian and Somali troops defeated Islamists who controlled much of the south, voted 154 to two to ratify Prime Minister Ali Mohamed Gedi’s plan to restore order.

The government, which is seeking to install itself in the capital Mogadishu, faces a huge challenge to bring peace and security to the Horn of Africa nation, which has been without effective central rule since the 1991 ouster of a dictator.

“A three-month state of emergency has been passed. If the need arises for the government to extend the period then the president will have to ask parliament for approval,” second deputy speaker Osman Elmi Boqore told parliament.

The law prohibits demonstrations and bans possession of weapons.

“The president has powers to announce a decree on how the state of emergency can be implemented,” a parliamentary statement said.

President Abdullahi Yusuf called on clan elders and warlords to hand over militia for a new national army. The warlords had already agreed to merge their forces into such a force.

“You have to hand them over to the government and we will train them as government security officers, such as police and military,” he said. “As we can see, the guerrilla war that the Islamists talked about is starting.”

Still vowing to fight
Some fleeing Islamists have vowed to continue fighting and Ethiopian troops in Mogadishu have been attacked several times.

Residents fear Mogadishu could slide back into the kind of anarchy that gripped the city since 1991.

On Friday, warlord gunmen tried to force their way inside the presidential palace and fought troops. The shootout which killed a handful of people was the kind of clash that used to be commonplace in Mogadishu.

Fighting between two sub-clans over grazing land near the central town of Jowhar on Friday raised fears of more clashes. Residents said on Saturday 10 people had been killed.

“Since the country is facing a hard time, we believe the emergency law will play a crucial role in bringing back peace and in the reconstruction of our country,” government spokesman Abdirahman Dinari told Reuters.

But some residents, waiting to see whether the government can impose the relative stability experienced under the Islamists’ sharia rule, did not welcome the vote.

“It gives the government the power to take everything from the people, therefore at this time it is not suitable,” resident Mohamed Rombe said.

'We will not stop the chase'
The vote came after government forces captured a southern Islamist stronghold and Ethiopian planes pounded the area. Many fugitive Islamists were believed to be in the coastal village of Ras Kamboni near the Kenyan border after fleeing south.

“Most of the wanted terrorists have either died or fled. They are hiding in the forests ... Government forces are still chasing them. We will not stop the chase until we are sure they are totally eliminated,” Dinari said.

Washington sent a warplane into Somalia on Monday to try to kill top al-Qaida suspects and Ethiopian aircraft have struck the area for days to finish a war that began before Christmas.

“Ethiopian troops are engaged in a mopping up operation against the remnants of the terrorist group around Ras Kamboni,” Ethiopian Information Ministry spokesman Zemedhun Tekle said.

The Somali government wants an African peacekeeping force to be deployed immediately. Uganda is ready to provide the first battalion, but is nervous of the risks for its soldiers.

A foreign ministry official said on Saturday Kenya, chair of the regional body IGAD, had sent officials to several African nations, including Rwanda, to seek support for the force.