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Concern over increasing tension in Somalia -

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Concern over increasing tension in Somalia

The World Today - Wednesday, 23 April , 2008 12:32:00

Reporter: Barney Porter

LISA MILLAR: When the war on terror is discussed, the focus is usually on Iraq or Afghanistan.

But another conflict zone is attracting concern.

Last weekend, it was reported at least 85 people were killed in Somalia in the Horn of Africa,
where a transitional government, backed by troops from neighbouring Ethiopia, and with moral
support from the US, is trying to hold off a resurgent Islamic militia.

As well, increasing incidents of piracy off the Somali coast have prompted calls for a strong
international effort to end the region's reputation as one of the most dangerous waterways in the
world.

Barney Porter reports.

BARNEY PORTER: There's been no effective long-term government in Somalia since warlords overthrew
the former dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991 and then turned on each other, plunging the country
into chaos for the next 17 years.

Last weekend, at least 85 people were killed when mortars and machine-gun fire rocked the capital
Mogadishu, in battles between Islamic-led insurgents, and government troops backed by forces from
Ethiopia.

Hundreds of residents are fleeing Mogadishu on foot, by car, and on donkey carts, while thousands
more are fleeing other areas, creating the potential for a massive humanitarian problem.

Hassan Noor is from Oxfam Somalia.

HASSAN NOOR: I think this is close to getting to worst times ever. Nothing is actually improving at
all. Help to these people is not possible somewhat because of the street problems, because of the
problems of access.

BARNEY PORTER: But it's simply more of the same.

The fighting after the overthrow of President Barre destroyed the country's agriculture, which led
to widespread starvation, and an estimated 500,000 deaths.

In June 2006, an Islamic movement called the Islamic Courts Union seized the capital after
defeating US backed warlords who'd formed a transitional government.

The Union then succeeded in taming the city for the first time since 1991.

But the imposition of Islamic law, and accusations by the US that the Union had links to al-Qaeda
ended any good will towards the new rulers.

With tacit US approval, Somalia's powerful neighbour, Ethiopia, sent in troops to prop up the
transitional government, and Mogadishu was recaptured six months later.

Professor Clive Williams is from the Centre for Policing Intelligence and Counter-Terrorism at
Macquarie University.

He believes Somalia is more of a failed state, than a key theatre in the war-on-terror.

CLIVE WILLIAMS: The US has claimed that people who were involved in the 2002 attack in Mombasa
against the hotel and the Israeli aircraft, basically Israeli targets, that those people took
sanctuary in Somalia. So... and they have also claimed that the upper level of the Islamic Courts
Union is also made up of extremists who are anti-US, but I think that's maybe is a bit of a
stretch.

BARNEY PORTER: The Islamic Courts did actually succeed in bringing peace to the capital Mogadishu
during their six month rule in 2006. Is the Council the only force capable of achieving this
long-term for the country, and should the west have offered more support to the Council at the
time?

CLIVE WILLIAMS: I think that probably is the case, yes. Because the people of Somalia are Muslim,
and, you know, it's a... almost entirely a Muslim country, and the Islamic courts union is probably
the only body that could really draw them together.

The transitional government, which is led by President Yusuf, is perhaps... although its supported by
the African union and the UN and the US, it's not really representative of the whole of Somalia nad
never can be, because it simply... Somalia will tend to break down along clan lines if it's not a
religiously-based government.

BARNEY PORTER: There's another problem.

The coastal waters off Somalia are considered to be among the most dangerous in the world for
shipping, with more than 25 ships seized by pirates last year.

The EU has called for "a strong international effort" to tackle piracy, and France, Britain and the
United States are now drafting a UN Security Council resolution.

But Clive Williams believes the problem won't be solved by force alone.

CLIVE WILLIAMS: The people are engaging in piracy because they really have no other economic
options So, you know, the way to deal with piracy is not to kill all the pirates, it's probably to
get in there and help the area and develop it economically so they have alternatives.

BARNEY PORTER: What does the future hold for Somalia?

CLIVE WILLIAMS: Well, really more of the same, unless the Ethiopians withdraw and there's some sort
of accommodation. But I think really the Islamic Courts Union is probably the best answer. And it
it's a more moderate approach, then even better. I think that the smart move for the west and for
countries like Australia would be to back moderate elements within the Islamic Courts movement.

So that would be, I think, a more positive development and help them to isolate the extremists,
because as I say, the transitional government really doesn't have much hope, I think, of pulling
the country together.

LISA MILLAR: That's professor Clive Williams, from the Centre for Policing Intelligence and
Counter-Terrorism at Macquarie University. And the reporter was Barney Porter.