*Supported by Eritrea, Islamist forces are focusing on what there is of government in wartorn Somalia. The U.N. calls for end to hostilities.
(NSI News Source Info) MOGADISHU - May 25 2009: Somalia’s Islamist rebels have launched a major offensive against the central government, reviving long-standing concerns that the country could fall entirely to militants with alleged ties to al-Qaeda. The situation is exacerbated by Eritrea’s support for the Islamists.Ugandan peacekeepers from the African Union Mission to Somalia (AMISOM) walk outside the presidential palace in Mogadishu May 23, 2009. Residents fled Somalia's capital on Saturday during a lull in fighting between government forces and hardline Islamist insurgents which killed at least 45 people a day earlier. Government forces launched a pre-dawn offensive on Friday to try to drive Islamist rebels from their Mogadishu strongholds, unleashing the bloodiest day's combat in months.
The U.N. Security Council expressed anxiety over reports that Eritrea has been supplying arms to Islamist militants intent on toppling Somalia's new government and condemned the recent violence.
The council insisted that Somali Islamist extremist groups immediately end the violence and join reconciliation efforts "The Security Council ... expresses its concern over reports that Eritrea has supplied arms to those opposing the (government of) Somalia in breach of the UN arms embargo," the statement said.
While Eritrea rejects accusations that it sends weapons to the al Qaeda-linked Islamist militants fighting Somalia's government, Somalia's government said earlier this month that Asmara continues to support al Shabaab militants with planeloads of AK-47 assault rifles, rocket-propelled grenades and other weapons.
The accusation was backed by diplomats and security experts. Ambassador Araya Desta, Eritrea’s UN envoy repudiated the accusation. "We have never done this; it is totally false and misleading." He said Eritrea had never given financial or military support to opposition factions in Somalia.
"The historical relationship that exists between Eritrea and Somalia is still intact, we fully respect them and we anticipate peace and stability in the country—that is our goal," Desta said. In DR Congo, Somalia, Sudan, refugees number as much as 4 million each. Civilians and aid workers continue to be targetted. Fighting has erupted in Mogadishu, causing thousands to flee.One diplomat said the Security Council statement was significant for singling out Eritrea by name. It usually refers to "third countries" or "outside" parties, he said.
Reuters reports that fighting between al Shabaab militants—who admit to having foreigners in their ranks—and pro-government fighters has killed at least 139 people and sent some 27,000 fleeing the pock-marked, seaside capital Mogadishu since late last week.
The Intergovernmental Authority on Development, an East African regional bloc, has called on the United Nations to impose immediate sanctions on Eritrea for backing the rebels. "The government of Eritrea and its financiers continue to instigate, finance, recruit, train, fund and supply the criminal elements in and/or to Somalia," the group said.
The rebels, now operating openly with hundreds of fighters from the United States, Britain, Pakistan, Chechnya and other places, have for the past year controlled virtually all of southern Somalia, where local leaders—some Somalis call them Islamist warlords—have imposed a harsh version of sharia law, publicly flogging people who don't attend Friday prayers and chopping off the hands of alleged thieves.
President Sharif Ahmed's government controls only Mogadishu's airport, its seaport and a small corner of the ruined city where the presidential palace is fortified by 4,000 African Union peacekeepers. Ahmed has remained sequestered there for most of the past week.