Monday, April 30, 2007

BBC: Nightmare in Somalia

I think we should become increasingly concerned with developments in Somalia. There have been 300 hundred deaths there recently:

It is a complicated and bloody struggle.

In the past few days more than 300 have been killed and since the turn of the year 2,000 have died, most of them civilians caught in crossfire.

Many thousands have been injured.

The appalling violence has led to one of the largest mass migrations in recent times.

Somali residents of Mogadishu pile their belongings onto a cargo truck
An increasing number of people continue to flee the volatile capital

Hundreds of thousands of people who were living in Mogadishu have grabbed what few possessions they could carry and headed for places of safety.

Some have moved to the outskirts of the capital away from the fighting.

Others have gone out into the Somali hinterland.

They have travelled into an environment that cannot sustain them, into villages dotted along dusty roads in the scrubby, scruffy bush of southern and central Somalia, into communities which were hit in the past year, first by drought and then by flooding.

There is little stored food, goat and cattle herds are only just recovering and the capacity to feed and care for thousands of displaced people does not exist.

And in the past few days the annual rains have started.

At the best of times Somalia poses huge problems for aid agencies.

Now it is, as one aid worker put it to me, "a total nightmare".

Fighting, poor infrastructure and flooded muddy roads are impeding the movement of food and medical supplies and the transitional government has been accused of deliberately blocking some aid because they feared it might end up in the hands of their enemies.

Cholera is now seeping through the displaced thousands, picking off the young and the weak.

In the rain and misery, hundreds have died.

And all because of foreign intervention in reaction to the Islamist presence in Somalia:

Just a few months ago, Mogadishu and much of Somalia were enjoying their most stable period for 16 years.

Under the brief control of the Islamic Courts Union, the grip of the warlords was loosened and some of the basic expectations of an organised life were being restored.

Schools were opening, police were being trained, roadblocks were removed and litter was even collected from the streets.

Many Somalis were unhappy with the more extreme rules of the Islamic Courts: closing down the cinemas, banning music and insisting women were veils.

But the Islamists were able to spread their power steadily through more of Somalia and this alarmed the government in neighbouring Ethiopia who have long feared a radical Islamic group in control of the country.

It worried the Americans too, who feared the Islamic Courts were harbouring al-Qaeda elements.

So with tacit American approval and with other international governments looking on, Ethiopia sent troops into Somalia to support the weak transitional government.

Ethiopia is now trapped.

It wants to get out of Somalia, but cannot go until what it calls the "Islamist threat" is eliminated.

But every moment Ethiopian troops spend in Somalia stirs up more resentment and their presence acts as a compelling recruiting sergeant for insurgents, who say they will die trying to rid their country of the Ethiopian invaders.