Cairo, Asharq Al-Awsat- A high-ranking Somali official has told Asharq Al-Awsat that the Somali interim government expects the opponent Islamic rebels to seriously escalate the military situation in the days or weeks ahead. In the meantime, Ethiopian forces have advanced into central Somalia in what appears to be a preparation for an offensive they may mount in cooperation with pro-government groups against the Youth Movement, which is in control of most areas in southern and central Somalia.
This development came amid accusations by Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki that Somali rebels are smuggling heavy military equipment into Kenya across the Kenyan border. Kenyan Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka announced that a major campaign is being launched in the northeastern areas adjacent to the Somali border to deter what he described as “serious threats faced by his country from the activities of extremist Islamic groups in Somalia. The Kenyan authorities have reinforced their precautionary measures along the border with Somalia, although Sheikh Hassan Tahir Uways, leader of the Somali Opposition Alliance and head of the Islamic Party, has denied the official Kenyan accusations.
Somali Foreign Minister Abdullah Omar said that his government has taken strict preventive security measures in precaution against suicide attacks on the senior officials of the Somali troika (the president, the parliament speaker, and the prime minister) by the Islamic rebels, who are seeking to overthrow the government of Somali President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmad and to attack the African Union Mission in Somalia.
Foreign Minister Omar told Asharq Al-Awsat by telephone from New York, where he is taking part in the UNSC meetings debating the current situation in Somalia, that “the rebels are now aware that they are incapable of defeating the government or taking control of the capital, Mogadishu. So they have changed their tactics, turning their attention to kidnapping foreigners. We expect the rebels to mount suicidal attacks in the near future.” He added: “We expect them to try to assassinate senior officials of the interim government.” He declined to give further details because of the sensitivity of the issue, as he put it. He added: “We know that this is now their new strategy. Their methods have changed. They have kidnapped two French security experts and three UN humanitarian organizations workers in Kenya. The next stage will see a wave of assassinations and suicidal attacks.” Omar said: “We will take strict security measures and will be on alert. I will not give the details that the enemy might exploit, but we will take all the necessary security measures.”
In reply to a question by Asharq Al-Awsat on whether these security measures will involve the tightening of the protection of President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmad and Prime Minister Omar Abdirashid Ali Sharmarke, Omar said: “We will take further security measures because the rebels will attack several targets in various areas. We hope to be able to prevent any terrorist attacks, and we expect to succeed.”
Discussing the issue of the abduction of two French security experts by the Islamic Party and the Mujahidin Youth Movement from a Mogadishu hotel last week, Omar said: “The two French nationals are being held by the Islamic rebels, and we are waiting for their conditions for negotiations.” He refused to deny or confirm that there is a possibility of a joint Somali-French operation to release the two French citizens by force. He said: “The rebels did not declare that the two French nationals are POWs; they must be immediately released for they have come to Somalia to support and assist our country.”
Omar pointed out that the UNSC debate over the political and military situation in Somalia has demonstrated that the international community’s support for Somalia will continue. He added: “We have received the international community’s support, and the UNSC debate emphasizes this support.” He noted that the Security Council will meet again on Wednesday to discuss the request by the AU and by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development for imposing sanctions on Eritrea because of its interference in Somalia’s domestic affairs.
According to eyewitnesses, the Ethiopian military forces were again spotted in Balan in central Somalia. These forces have set up a military base in the province of Galgadud, which has been the scene of fierce fighting over the past two days between the Youth Movement’s militiamen and the Sunnite group allied with the interim government. The fighting left at least 17 persons dead.
In another development, 13 Somali Army soldiers were injured as the armored truck carrying them overturned as a result of over speeding, according to the government security sources.
Ahmad Ould Abdullah, UN special envoy to Somalia, stressed that those who do not want to see stability or a strong central government in Somalia will not succeed in their efforts. In a letter to Somali expatriates living abroad, he said that those who do not want to see a strong government in Somalia will continue fighting to achieve their personal goals. He said that the peace process in Djibouti remains the only path toward achieving national reconciliation and restoring security to the country. He said that the current interim government will continue to shoulder its responsibilities until the end of 2011. He called on all opposition groups to give up violence and to engage in serious negotiations in preparation for holding presidential and legislative elections after the end of the current government’s legal term in office.