Somali parliament declares state of emergency

BAIDOA (Reuters) — Somalia’s parliament declared on Saturday a three-month state of emergency amid fears of a return of 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 Mohammad Gedi’s plan.

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

On Friday, warlord gunmen tried to force their way inside the presidential palace and fought Somali troops, showing how hard it will be to tame the nation.

The shoot-out which killed a handful of people and came as warlords agreed to merge their forces into a new national army, was the kind of clash that was commonplace in Mogadishu.

Within hours of the Islamists fleeing Mogadishu, group loyal to the warlords reappeared at checkpoints in the city where they used to terrorise civilians.

The government welcomed the vote.

“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.

The government is seeking to disarm the capital’s residents but few weapons have been handed in as locals wait to see whether the government can impose the relative stability they experienced under the Islamists.

Islamist refuge captured

Earlier, 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.

“The government took over the last Islamist stronghold of Ras Kamboni yesterday evening after fighting in the morning,” Dinari said.

“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.” Washington sent a warplane into Somalia on Monday to try to kill top Al Qaeda 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.

Speaking from the southern Kismayu port, lawmaker Abdirashid Mohammed Hidig, also acting government leader for the area where operations were being launched, said Ethiopian planes were striking sites where “the Islamists are believed to be hiding.” Hidig said US forces were on the ground but were not involved in any fighting although he had not seen them. A senior US official told Reuters this week he was not aware of any American special forces in Somalia.

British-based aid agency Oxfam said air raids to pursue Islamists in southern Somalia had mistakenly killed 70 nomadic herdsmen. While some Somali sources have reported scores of deaths, there has been no independent confirmation.

Both Ethiopia and the United States deny hitting civilians. Washington’s strike was its first overt military involvement in Somalia since a disastrous peacekeeping mission in 1994.

It killed up to 10 Al Qaeda allies, but missed its main target of three top suspects, the US government said.

Washington denies carrying out any further strikes.

Ethiopia, the region’s major power, wants to withdraw in coming weeks its soldiers who have been attacked in Mogadishu.

Diplomats fear that would leave the government — the 14th attempt at central rule since 1991 — vulnerable to remnant Islamists vowing guerrilla war, warlords seeking to re-create their fiefdoms, and competing clans.

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