Cairo, Asharq Al-Awsat- The official in charge of the African peacekeeping forces in Somalia denied to Asharq Al-Awsat that these forces intend to withdraw from Somalia under the influence of the hard-line Mujahidin Youth Movement’s attacks. He also dismissed the movement’s accusations that his forces killed some 35 civilians following the explosion of a landmine under a convoy of the African forces in the Mecca Street of the Somali capital, Mogadishu, earlier this week.
The Mujahidin Youth Movement, which is opposed to the transitional authority and foreign military presence in Somalia, said in a statement that the landmine attack for which it claimed responsibility destroyed a military vehicle and killed 12 Ugandan soldiers. Afterward, the movement added, the African forces opened fire at civilians and killed 35 of them.
However, Gen Francis Okello, commander of the African Union’s peacekeeping forces (AMISOM), who was speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat by telephone from Mogadishu, asserted that allegations about his forces` involvement in killing unarmed civilians after the incident are untrue and part of a media campaign to tarnish the forces` reputation.
Okello said: “These are false allegations. We did not kill any civilian. As usual, those who detonated the explosive charge opened fire indiscriminately and killed the civilians afterward. As for our forces, they did not open fire at unarmed civilians at all. This is an obvious fabricated lie.”
Okello added that the aforementioned incident resulted in the death of two Somali policemen, injury of three Ugandan soldiers, and destruction of a military vehicle.
Okello told Asharq Al-Awsat that in spite of stepped up attacks by Islamic militants against his forces, the African troops continue to preserve peace and help the Somalis achieve stability and security that have been lacking since 1991.
He said: “If we withdraw now, our mission will have failed. We continue to believe that we have to support the Somalis.” He added that these attacks did not frighten his forces, which continue to do their job and carry out the mission with which the African Union leadership entrusted them upon a request by the legitimate authority in Somalia.
Okello pointed out that departure of the peacekeeping troops that consist of some 4,000 fighters from Burundi and Uganda might lead to the collapse of the transitional authority in Somalia and, in turn, to extremists and hardliners` takeover of power.
However, he admitted that departure of the Ethiopian forces from Somalia has indeed affected the African forces` performance on the ground. He noted that the forces, which are loyal to the Somali authority, still need more training and organization. He added that they also need advanced military equipments and logistical support, so that they may be able to control the situation in the country.
On a separate issue, Somali President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmad, who returned to Djibouti after taking part in the African Union summit in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, began to conduct consultations with members of the parliament and representatives of various Somali tribes to choose a new head for the Somali Government to succeed the current prime minister, Col Nur Hassan Hussein(Adde).
Speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat by telephone from Djibouti and Addis Ababa, people close to the Somali president said that Sheikh Sharif will announce the appointment of anew head for the transitional government in a few days` time. They added that the new government, which is sought to be a national unity government, will consist of figures close to Sheikh Sharif and some figures outside the coalition that he leads.
Sharif criticized the Eritrean Foreign Ministry’s official statement in which it said it does not recognize Sharif as president of Somalia. He said he has been elected by the Somalis and that there is no room for Asmara’s talk.
Sharif pledged to follow a good neighborly policy with Ethiopia. He also pledged to attempt to include all opposition factions in his government and work together to close the page of the civil war that has been raging in the country since the downfall of the ruling regime of ousted President Muhammad Siyad Bare in 1991.
Meanwhile, Umar Uthman Dahtahur, mayor of the Somali capital, Mogadishu, told Asharq Al-Awsat that the capital is getting ready to arrange a great legendary reception for Sheikh Sharif and members of the new transitional government immediately after its inauguration in Djibouti.
Speaking by telephone from the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, which he visited to sign a twinning agreement between Nairobi and Mogadishu, Dahtahur said that the capital’s administration is getting ready to celebrate the return of Sheikh Sharif to the country. He added that the ceremony will be attended by all the capital’s population who recently organized demonstrations to welcome the election of Sheikh Sharif as president of the country.
Dahtahur held intensive talks in Nairobi with representatives of international organizations that are concerned with Somalia in an attempt to persuade them to provide financial and logistic aid for the administration of the capital, Mogadishu, to enable it to carry out its duties toward the city’s population.
However, opposition leader Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys and the Youth Movement, which is opposed to the transitional authority, announced that they do not recognize the election of Sharif. Meanwhile, Somali sources expect violent clashes to take place between the two sides and between the African peacekeeping troops and government forces.
This will be the first time Sheikh Sharif returns to the capital as president after he recently visited it several times in his capacity as leader of the Djibouti wing that broke away from the Somali Opposition Alliance, which uses the Eritrean capital, Asmara, as its headquarters.
The official in charge of the African peacekeeping forces told Asharq Al-Awsat that his forces will protect the Somali president and his new government immediately after their return to the capital. He noted that this protection is part of the tasks with which his forces are entrusted.