The Somali government is trying to create a Baghdad-style safe "Green Zone" in Mogadishu to protect senior officials and foreign visitors from insurgent attacks, Prime Minister Ali Mohamed Gedi said on Tuesday.
In an interview with Reuters, the Somali premier also accused U.S.-based Human Rights Watch of "abusing" his government and siding with radical Islamists in a report alleging war crimes against Mogadishu's population.
Insurgents have been fighting Gedi's government, and its Ethiopian military allies, since Islamists were toppled from Mogadishu at the end of 2006 after a brief, six-month rule.
To counter the threat of attacks, a security zone was being set up in the bullet-scarred coastal capital, Gedi said.
"At the moment, the government security agencies are trying to create a Green Zone where international community workers, and those vulnerable, can stay for their security purposes," he said, without giving more details.
"I hope that we will achieve positive results very soon."
Gedi said government forces were winning the battle against insurgents and were now involved in "cleaning up" some 200 to 300 hardcore fighters left in Mogadishu and its surroundings.
In the worst fighting earlier this year, hundreds died and tens of thousands fled. Citing the assassination of two prominent journalists and several officials at the weekend, Gedi said he was not under-estimating the remaining risk.
"Some terrorist activities are still taking place. Suicide bombings, landmines, shooting of civilians is still going on," he said, looking stern during an interview in the garden of a house he owns in Nairobi.
Two men arrested for the killing of the journalists were "obviously" from the insurgent side, Gedi said, declining to give more details while investigations were under way.
An under-staffed African Union mission in Mogadishu — which has just 1,600 Ugandan soldiers instead of its intended 8,000 men — needed to be urgently bolstered, the premier said.
Peacemaking before peacekeeping
While the world was rushing to put together a 26,000-strong peacekeeping force for Darfur, in Sudan, "I feel reluctance" from the U.N. Security Council on Somalia, Gedi said.
His government, set up in 2005 in the 14th attempt to restore central rule to the Horn of Africa nation since the 1991 ouster of a military dictator, wants the AU mission to be expanded quickly then transformed into a U.N. operation.
But the Security Council's peacekeeping department had still not sent an assessment mission to Somalia, he said.
"It is appropriate to ask the Security Council member states or the United Nations why they are giving so much emphasis to Darfur and not to Somalia," he said. "In New York, they were saying to me 'make peace and we will come and keep it'. But Somalia needs peacemaking, not peacekeeping."
Gedi was angry at a Human Rights Watch report on Monday, saying his troops and their Ethiopian allies were responsible — together with insurgents — for widespread crimes against Mogadishu residents during this year's fighting.
"I completely reject what they've said," he said.
"Themselves, they abuse governments," Gedi added, arguing that HRW had willfully ignored any positive aspects of his
government's record like an ongoing peace conference, the set-up of local administrations, and aid to refugees.
They had also ignored crimes by the Islamic Courts during their rule of Mogadishu, including killing and displacing people, destroying property, denying women's rights, using child soldiers, and banning cinema and sports-viewing, he said.
"It seems that the Human Rights Watch or groups are in line with opportunistic people who ... want to keep Somalia in a vacuum, to be a safe haven for terrorist activities."
Gedi added, however, that conflict was messy.
"Everywhere in the world where fighting takes place, some disorders can take place. ... Sometimes you instruct forces and they can do something else, but immediately it is our position and our responsibility to correct any mistakes that take place."