Thursday, August 03, 2006

Situation in Somalia: letter to the Minister

From Lord Avebury P0603081

Tel 020-7274 4617

August 3, 2006

Dear David,

Thank you for your letter of July 28, ref 32458, about the situation in Somalia.

For the time being, there is no fighting, because the Islamists control most of the territory outside Somaliland, Puntland and the Baidoa enclave. The Islamists are unlikely to attack Baidoa, because they wouldn’t like the Ethiopians to have any excuse for keeping their troops on Somali soil. Where we disagree is that you continue to believe in the face of the evidence that the TFIs provide the basis for a solution, which can evolve through dialogue between the Islamic Courts and the TFG.

For a start, Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys has ruled out talks with the TFG as long as a single Ethiopian soldier remains in Somalia (Reuters, July 30), and the UN Envoy Francois Lonseny Fall has confirmed that some Ethiopian forces are in Baidoa and Wajid (Reuters Foundation, July 26). But the Islamists are not really interested in talks when they have nothing to gain from sharing the power they already wield.

The longer the talks are delayed, the weaker the TFG becomes. On July 27, 18 members of the TFG cabinet resigned; the next day the Minister for the Constitution and Federalism, Abdalla Deerow Isaq, was shot dead as he left a mosque; on July 30 the Prime Minister lost a non-confidence vote by 126-88, but stayed in post because the motion needed a two thirds majority; on August 1 another six or 11 Ministers resigned, depending on which source you prefer. Sheikh Aweys said he appreciated their action and called on the rest of the Ministers to resign (Somalia: Islamists Applaud as 11 Government Ministers Quit Posts, Shebelle Media Network, August 2). The Minister of Defence resigned today, bring the total who have quit so far to 37 out of 102 Ministers. Squabbles have broken out between Yusuf and Speaker Aden on the one hand, and Gedi’s faction on the other, about whether to attend the Arab League meeting which is not going to take place anyway.

Meanwhile, militiamen controlling 50 ‘technicals’, who were supposed to be guarding Baidoa, have defected to the Islamists. An Ethiopian Minister has said that the Islamists are a terrorist group, and that the international community should support the TFG to ‘combat’ the movement in the region.

The presence of Ethiopian forces in Baidoa may provide the few remaining loyalists of the TFG security against a direct attack by the Islamists, but Aweys can afford to wait. Probably within weeks rather than months, Yusuf, Gedi and anybody else who hasn’t already thrown his lot in with the Islamists will be airlifted to safety. The Islamists will be in effective control of the country and will have to be recognised as the legitimate government. There is no point in continuing to call on the parties to resume the Arab League talks, because there will be only one side left.

As for your suggestion that Somalia should retain ownership of the peace process, when there is a de facto government which has a monopoly of armed force, as there will be, there will no longer be a process to be owned. The people of Somalia will have to submit to Mr Aweys, unless of course they have the resources to flee the country and seek asylum, as many will try to do. There are already 148,000 Somali refugees in the camps in Kenya, and 16,000 in Ethiopia, but some will no doubt get to the UK.

According to the US State Department, terrorists who were involved in the 1998 bombings of the US Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania are being sheltered by elements within the Islamists, and there is a terrorist organisation known as al-Ittihad al-Islami which aims at establishing a Salafist emirate in Somalia. Sheikh Aweys himself is said to have links to al-Qa’eda, but denies any formal connection. He has said he ‘partially agrees’ with comments ascribed to bin Laden about Somalia being an ‘open front’ against the US, and it is hard to imagine the US having any dealings with a régime led by Aweys.

I do recognise that we have only a minor role to play in these events, but I suggest that we at least refrain from making ourselves look silly by continuing to press for the grandiloquently misnamed TFG and the Islamists. Nor would there be any need for an African-led Peace Support Operation if the Islamists say they can maintain law and order, as it appears they have done in Mogadishu. An alternative would be to put resources into helping Somaliland towards strengthening its democratic institutions and its economy, so that there is a model for Somalis in shaping their own political future. It may well be that they have no more choice under Mr Aweys that they have done for the last 15 years under the warlords, but there would be no justification under international law for using military force to prevent what is almost a fait accompli; a call by the TFG for Ethiopian military assistance would not be a valid exercise of Article 51 of the UN Charter, and if the Ethiopians are there at the invitation of ‘President’ Yusuf, he has not complied with the obligation to report it to the Security Council.

The Rt Hon the Lord Triesman,
Foreign & Commonwealth Office,
London SW1A 2AH.

No comments: