MOGADISHU (AP) â€” Somali officials were imposing martial law on areas the transitional government controls, moving to strengthen a tenuous grip on power and smother rising violence. An AU official said Wednesday that help was on the way in the form of peacekeepers from Uganda and Nigeria.
Prime Minister Ali Mohammad Gedi announced on government-controlled radio that the martial law measures were beginning with a curfew in the southern town of Baidoa. Gedi said remnants of an ousted Islamist movement have returned to some areas and were planning to try to further destabilise an already lawless country.
“From now on martial law would be implemented across government-controlled areas, starting with Baidoa tonight,” Gedi said late Tuesday. The measure was taken under a three-month emergency law passed by parliament on January 13.
Since last month when Somali government troops with crucial support from Ethiopian soldiers, tanks and war planes ousted the Council of Islamic Courts, factional violence has again become a feature of life in the Somali capital, Mogadishu.
Ethiopia says it does not have the resources to stay as a peacekeeping force and already has begun withdrawing, presenting the possibility of a dangerous power vacuum.
In neighbouring Ethiopia Wednesday, a senior African Union (AU) official said that three battalions of peacekeepers from Uganda and Nigeria were ready to be deployed in Somalia and will be airlifted in as soon as possible.
The AU was pressing ahead with its peacekeeping mission to Somalia despite securing only half the 8,000 troops needed at a key summit of African leaders that ended Tuesday. So far five nations â€” Uganda, Nigeria, Malawi, Burundi and Ghana â€” have pledged around 4,000 troops.
The AU official, speaking to the Associated Press on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to speak to the media, added securing the 8,000 troops would not be difficult. The main challenge, he said, was raising the estimated $34 million a month to pay for the mission.
The EU has pledged $20 million for a peacekeeping force and $40 million in overall support has been offered by the US The US also has pledged to offer airlift support.
An important consideration for the AU peacekeeping mission is ensuring that the majority of troops are Muslim, given that most Somalis are Muslim. The international community has also pressed Somali authorities to move towards national reconciliation, creating peace for the troops to maintain. The troops will have a narrow mandate: Protecting the transitional government.
On Tuesday, Somali President Abdullahi Yusuf agreed to a national reconciliation conference. But that was followed Wednesday with what could be seen as a setback for building unity: Sheikh Adan Mohammad Nor was elected speaker of parliament. The former speaker, Sharif Hassan Sheikh Aden, was voted out on January 17 because of his close ties with the Islamist movement.
Both the European Union and the US had called on the government to reinstate Aden as speaker, saying he could play an important role in promoting reconciliation and peace. His replacement is a government loyalist.
On Tuesday, extremists in Somalia said they would try to kill any peacekeepers. In a videotape posted on the official website of the Islamist movement, a hooded gunman read a statement saying that any African peacekeepers would be seen as invaders.
The United States has accused Somalia’s Council of Islamic Courts of sheltering suspects in the 1998 Al Qaeda bombings of US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. Osama Ben Laden has said Somalia is a battleground in his war on the West.