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Somali Business Concerned Over Mogadishu Airport Blockade
MOGADISHU , September 19, 2008 — Somalia 's business community on Thursday expressed concern over the closure of Mogadishu airport by a radical Islamist group, arguing the move was tantamount to self-inflicted sanctions.
Somalia 's Al-Shebab movement earlier this week warned that all flights should cease as of September 16, arguing that the airport was an instrument of Ethiopia 's military occupation of Somalia .
Commercial activity at the airport has since been frozen but Somali traders in Mogadishu as well as among the diaspora in Nairobi are concerned that the measure will only further stifle an already agonizing nation.
"It's disastrous, a black era for the people of Somalia because the airport is a facility that serves everybody, not only the foreign forces as the Shebab say," said Muktar Adan Sanka, a trader who sells medicines in Mogadishu .
The Shebab did not elaborate on the action they would take if flights continued but their decree came amid intelligence reports that the militia received a new delivery of surface-to-air missile.
"The airport is generating money that helps Ethiopian troops get revenue, the premise is under the direct control of Ethiopian troops," the Shebab said in a statement posted on the Internet on Saturday.
The airport is used for both commercial and military flights but is also the main base for the Ugandan contingent of the African Union peacekeepers, who were reinforced by Burundians earlier this year.
"How dare they close this airport, which everyone uses, including those who made that decision? We must not keep silent otherwise we will let them destroy our livelihood," said Abas Mumin, another trader.
"They took this fateful decision at a time when traders were reviewing the maritime option because of the surge in piracy," he explained.
Attacks by marauding pirates off the coast of Somalia and rogue checkpoints dotting the country's ragged roads further complicate trade and the much-needed delivery of food aid.
A large Somali diaspora lives in Nairobi , where many of those who could afford to leave the war-torn country have settled and started businesses.
"Since Tuesday, we've been unable to fly or send commercials goods to Mogadishu . The airport is not operational despite the Somali government pledge it would remain open," Nairobi-based trader Ahmed Aydarus complained.
"Direct flights to Mogadishu from Nairobi and Dubai were the most useful ones, people get food and medicine from there," he said.
"If there was a nearby airport through which people could bring their shipment it would be okay, but the nearest airport we can safely use is in Berbera or Hargeysa" in Somaliland, said Amina Hassan Bilan, another trader.
Abdi Moalim Abdillahi, another Nairobi resident, said he resented the presence of foreign troops in his country as much as the Shebab do but argued that closing the airport was self-defeating.
"Unfortunately, the airport closure simultaneously punishes the occupying force and increases the Somali people's suffering," he said.
The government in Mogadishu has attempted to convince traders and commercial airlines that the airport could still be used.
"The Shebab have no powers to stop flights as they are not in control of the airport. They only used the media to terrify people," presidential spokesman Hussein Mohamud Mohamed Hubsired told AFP.
But his reassurances fell on deaf ears in Nairobi , where the business community argued it would be foolish not to take the Shebab seriously.
"We know that three planes were shot down by Somali insurgents last year and they might do it again. Hubsired shouldn't say such things," said Sirad Haji Hassan, who is in the import-export business.
"People should not be used as target practice for the insurgents' new missiles," she added.