Aid group: U.S. undermining Somali peace

/ Source: The Associated Press

U.S. attacks on Islamic extremists in Somalia are undermining attempts to find a peaceful solution for the troubled Horn of Africa nation, a Washington-based aid agency said Monday.

A shaky transitional government took over Mogadishu, the Somali capital, in the last days of 2006 with the help of Ethiopian troops, unseating an extremist Islamic movement that had reigned for six months over most of southern Somalia. Now remnants of the Islamic movement are waging an insurgency.

In the past year or so, the U.S. has targeted suspected terrorists using missile strikes and added the military wing of Somalia's Islamic movement to its list of foreign terrorist organizations.

"These military actions undermine the diplomatic push for political reconciliation and galvanize extremist elements, reinforcing the very threat that U.S. policy in the Horn of Africa is meant to address," Refugees International said in a report titled "Somalia: Proceed with Caution."

Its assessment came on the same day nearly 200 Islamic fighters armed with rocket-propelled grenades and machine guns seized a central Somali town and attacked a military convoy in a nearby village, residents said.

Heavy fighting in the Somali capital also killed at least four people, including two soldiers, and wounded five others, according to witnesses.

Officials in the U.S. Embassy in Kenya, which is also responsible for Somalia, were not immediately available for comment.

Ethiopia inquiry advised
Refugees International "strongly encourages the U.S. administration to condemn human rights violations committed by the Ethiopian forces," the report says. The organization, "recommends that the U.S. Congress investigate any military support that was provided to Ethiopia to ensure it adheres to U.S. law."

Ethiopia has in the past denied that its troops have violated human rights in Somalia.

Refugees International also said a political agreement between the shaky Somali government and its opposition was "the principal prerequisite for greater military and political engagement from the international community."

Refugees International said U.N. agencies working in Mogadishu are "out of touch with the fast changing realities on the ground," where more than 1 million people have been displaced from their homes.

International staff are based in neighboring Kenya's capital, Nairobi, for security reasons and lack enough Somali staff on the ground, the report said.

U.N. aid workers 'frustrated'
Guillermo Bettocchi, the U.N. refugee agency's Somalia representative, said Refugees International's assessment of the U.N.'s working conditions in Mogadishu was "quite realistic."

"We are frustrated, but we are working to address these issues," Bettocchi told The Associated Press, adding that it has been a "very bureaucratic" process to get approvals for the staffing they need in Somalia.

Bettocchi said that the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees is building "almost a bunker" near a major airport 30 miles away from the center of Mogadishu that will allow his and other U.N. agencies to increase their staff in the city while keeping safe. Bettocchi said it would be completed in about two weeks.