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Transitional Government Hails Visit By UK Minister
NAIROBI, May 18, 2006 – The Somali government has described a surprise visit on Wednesday by British international development minister Hilary Benn to the town of Baidoa as a sign of the UK's support to the fledging government.
"It showed Britain's solidarity with the Somali people and a recognition of their new institutions," said Abdirahman Dinari, the government spokesman, on Thursday. "We hope that other powers will do the same."
Baidoa, 240 km southwest of the capital, Mogadishu, is the current base of the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) of Somalia.
Benn, who was visiting the East Africa region, met Somali President Abdillahi Yusuf Ahmed and Prime Minister Ali Muhammad Gedi and pledged to boost aid to the government. "He promised support in institution-building and humanitarian assistance," Dinari said.
The TFG has a long road ahead in establishing stability in Somalia, which has had no functioning government for almost 16 years.
In Mogadishu, hundreds of people took to the streets on Wednesday to appeal for peace, three days after a ceasefire that ended seven days of fighting between heavily armed militias, in which at least 190 people were killed and hundreds more injured.
The demonstrators, including women and children, marched to express their anger at the recent violence between the Islamic courts and the newly created Alliance for Peace and the Fight Against International Terrorism, which comprises several Mogadishu-based faction leaders, some of whom are also cabinet ministers. Carrying banners and chanting slogans for peace, the protestors demanded an end to the carnage, a resident said.
Abdillahi Shirwa, a member of a civil-society group that organized the event, said the demonstrators later converged at the Mogadishu stadium where Mahamud Hassan Ade, the governor of Benadir [Mogadishu and its environs], delivered an address. He appealed for urgent humanitarian assistance for thousands displaced by the fighting.
Shirwa said people who had left their homes because of the fighting were still at makeshift camps "under the most difficult conditions and in desperate need of help."
Meanwhile, militia loyal to the Islamic court were involved in clashes on Wednesday with those loyal to Muhammad Omar Habeb, the self-proclaimed governor of Middle Shabelle Region, near the village of Warsheikh, 40 km northeast of Mogadishu. "The clash took place at a checkpoint manned by militia loyal to Muhammad Dheere [Habeb, a member of the anti-terror alliance]," a resident said. "Conflicting reports put the death toll at between two and five." The clash was the second outbreak of fighting since the ceasefire was announced on Sunday, which raised fears of renewed violence.
"It is an unfortunate incident, but I don't believe it would have much effect on Mogadishu," Shirwa said. "It is more likely to have an impact in Jowhar and Middle Shabelle."
"These skirmishes indicate that the two sides may take their differences to other regions," said another source in Mogadishu. "The Islamic courts may be telling Muhammad Dheere that if he keeps coming to Mogadishu, Jowhar [his stronghold] won’t be safe."
In a related development, the prime minister has issued an ultimatum to cabinet ministers who have refused to come to Baidoa. "The PM has given them seven days [from Wednesday] to come to Baidoa," said Dinari, who added that Gedi would take "appropriate action" if the ministers failed to comply.
The order is reportedly aimed at three Mogadishu-based cabinet members who are also part of the so-called anti-terror alliance, said a Somali observer. "The main targets of this order are Qanyare [Muhammad], Yalahow [Muse Sudi] Finish, [Muhammad Omar]."
President Yusuf recently warned ministers that they could not expect to be in the cabinet and wage war against the Somali people.