MOGADISHU (AFP) — Somalia’s embattled president, Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, scrambled to salvage his six-month-old administration Monday and fend off an unrelenting insurgent offensive.
Six weeks into a fierce assault that has killed at least 300, the young cleric’s grip on a handful of Mogadishu neighbourhoods hung by a thread, amid growing talk of a fresh foreign military intervention.
On Monday, the African Union reiterated its concern and gave its blessing to Somalia’s earlier appeal for foreign backing.
AU Commission Chairman Jean Ping said in a statement that the Somali government “has the right to seek support from AU members states and the larger international community.”
On Sunday, the secretary general of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference called for urgent international action to suppress the assault that has also displaced 130,000.
“It has become inevitable that the international community should intervene immediately to support the transitional government, re-establish order and lighten the suffering of innocent civilians,” Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu said.
The previous day, Somalia’s parliament speaker had launched a desperate appeal for foreign assistance, less than six months after neighbouring Ethiopia put an end to it’s ill-fated military intervention.
“The government is weakened by the rebel forces. We ask neighbouring countries — including Kenya, Djibouti, Ethiopia and Yemen — to send troops to Somalia within 24 hours,” Sheikh Aden Mohamed Nur told reporters.
“We have a state of emergency in this country today because foreign fighters from all over the world are fighting the government,” said Nur, adding that an Al-Qaeda operative from Pakistan was commanding the fighting in Mogadishu.
In 2006, Ethiopia invaded Somalia to remove an Islamist rebellion led by Sharif and Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys.
When it pulled out earlier this year, having failed to stabilise the country and significantly strengthen the internationally backed transitional government, Ethiopia warned it could return at any time should hardliners threaten to take control.
But Ethiopian Communications Minister Bereket Simon reacted to the Somali speaker’s call Saturday by insisting that his country would not make its move without international backing.
“Any further action from Ethiopia regarding Somalia will be done according to international community decision,” he told AFP.
Ethiopian troops were reported to have beefed up their presence at the border with western Somalia in recent days.
On May 7, an unprecedented anti-government offensive was launched by the Shebab, a hardline armed group suspected of ties to Al-Qaeda, and Hezb al-Islam, a more political movement led by Aweys, Sharif’s ally-turned-foe.
The fighting has focused on central regions, where Sharif’s Islamic Courts Union is well represented, and Mogadishu, where he has owed his survival mainly to the protection of African Union peacekeepers.
The Somali security minister, a lawmaker and the Mogadishu police chief were killed in three successive days last week, drawing a barrage of international condemnation.
Somalia has been without an effective central authority since the 1991 ouster of president Mohamed Siad Barre touched off a bloody power struggle that has defied at least a dozen peace initiatives.