"No solution but war" in Somalia

Eric Randolph
27 May 2008

Hopes of a peaceful resolution to the Somalian conflict took another blow yesterday with another Islamist leader announcing there can be "no solution but war". In a rare interview with Reuters, Sheikh Hassan Abdullah Hersi al-Turki said, "All foreign troops are like united lions that devour us. We shall not tire from fighting them. Let every Somali take his guns and knives. We shall never have peace until we chase the Ethiopians out of our country."

Hersi has been linked to al-Qaeda, and security experts say he runs training camps for Islamist insurgents in southern Somalia. He has been a leading figure in the 17-month-old insurgency against the interim government, which is backed by Ethiopia and the west. Hersi's warning comes amid UN-backed attempts to broker a truce with more moderate elements of the Islamist opposition that began earlier this month. His words mirror those of the most senior Islamist, Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys, who last week vowed to oust the Ethiopian troops by force and establish an Islamic republic.

The toD verdict: As if to underline his point, Hersi's words were followed just hours later by a large-scale insurgent attack on African Union troops in Mogadishu. The death toll from the attack so far stands at 18. International aid groups estimate that at least 6,000 civilians have been killed in the last year of fighting. Keep up to date with the latest developments and sharpest perspectives in a world of strife and struggle.

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Whatever results from the UN-backed peace talks in Djibouti, it is unlikely to sway the plethora of hardline splinter groups that emerged after the Islamists were ousted from Mogadishu in January 2007. The situation is following a familiar pattern in which co-opted, moderate opposition groups are branded "traitors" by their former allies in the Islamist alliance. While a divided opposition has obvious advantages for security forces, it can also lead to an escalation of violence and extremism among remaining hardliners as moderate voices are driven from their ranks. This is particularly debilitating in a country as lawless and heavily-armed as Somalia. The African Union has supplied barely a third of its promised 8,000 troops, as donor governments see only futility in peacekeeping in Somalia.

Meanwhile, Somalia slips ever closer to total collapse as displacement, drought, failed harvests and rising global prices worsen the crisis.

Cautious welcome for Syria-Israel talks

It was announced on 21 May that Turkey is mediating talks between Syria and Israel on a comprehensive peace agreement. Middle east experts say that such an agreement is feasible, but will require major concessions on both sides that could take a long time to achieve. In an interview with the Council on Foreign Relations, Syria expert Joshua Landis said that the return of the Golan Heights in exchange for Syria's ending of aid to Hizbollah and Hamas was in the ultimate interest of both sides, but would be a "bitter pill" to swallow. A more positive assessment from the International Analyst Network says the mere existence of talks was an important step, and that a deal makes "great economic sense" for the Syrians.

Philippines counter-insurgency risks uniting opposition

A report by the International Crisis Group says the US-backed security operation in the southern Philippines could unite disparate insurgent groups and lead to renewed fighting. Counter-insurgency tactics have been directed against the Abu Sayyaf Group and helped force fighters out of their stronghold on Basilan. But the ICG report argues that this could force those fighters into the arms of the other groups in Mindanao, such as the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, unless lapsed efforts to keep the groups apart are revived, and more progress is made on a comprehensive peace pact. The fear is that this will not happen before the International Monitoring Team, that has kept a lid on the conflict since 2004, comes to the end of its mandate in August.

Bomb rocks Nepal's constitution process

At least two bombs were detonated in Kathmandu outside a convention centre where talks on a new constitution are due later this week. Al-Jazeera reports that a previously unknown Hindu nationalist group claimed responsibility for the attack, which caused no injuries. Police officials say the attack was designed to create panic in the build-up to the Parliamentary debate, which is likely to abolish Nepal's monarchy and the 240-year-old Shah dynasty. Maoists won a majority of the 601-seat assembly in last month's elections.

Saddam deputy vows to fight on

A former deputy of Saddam Hussein, who has not been seen since the fall of the regime in 2003, says Baath loyalists are continuing the fight for the "total liberation of Iraq". The interview with Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri, a fugitive with $10 million on his head, was conducted by a little-known Egyptian tabloid that claims close links to the former regime. Al-Douri says 120,000 Baath loyalists have been killed since the invasion, but that they are still deploying suicide bombers, including women, in Iraq.

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