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Islamist militants withdraw from famine struck Somali capital! August 6, 2011

Posted by Chris Mark in Uncategorized.
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MOGADISHU, Somalia –  Islamist fighters withdrew overnight from almost all their bases in the famine-struck Somali capital, the most significant gain for the embattled U.N.-backed government in four years. Commanders toured newly abandoned positions Saturday, including a former sports stadium where the militia’s tire marks were fresh in the grass.

The militants have denied many aid agencies access to their territory and their presence in the capital has complicated famine relief efforts. The government said humanitarian agencies now were welcome to come and distribute aid, but many still insist on serving only precooked rations at guarded kitchens.

“It is of major significance, but the war is not over yet,” said Somali Defense Minister Hussein Arab Esse as he stood amid the rubble and graffitied walls of the stadium.

Tanks belonging to the African Union peacekeeping force surrounded the former militia base as gunfire crackled outside. Government soldiers draped in bandoliers of bullets lounged on smashed concrete pillars, staring as Somali and AU officials embraced.

Somalia has been a failed state for more than 20 years. Its lawless wastes are a haven for pirates and international terrorists and the conflict has caused two major famines. Hundreds of thousands starved to deaths in 1992 and the current emergency is believed to have cost tens of thousands of lives already. It is set to worsen, partly because the Islamists, who call themselves Al-Shabab, have banned many aid workers.

There have been two deadly shoot-outs in the past week after aid agencies tried to hand out sacks of food. Both incidents involved government forces, some of whom are poorly trained and disciplined.

It’s still unclear why the militia retreated or what its next move will be. There are several possible reasons: the drought and the movement of population away from areas it controls; the diversion of foreign fighters and funding to the Arab Spring; or infighting among its top leadership. It could simply be a change of tactics by a heavily outgunned force to a guerilla-style campaign of suicide bombings and hit and run attacks.

Al-Shabab spokesman Ali Mohamed Rage told a local radio station that the forces had made a tactical withdrawal and would soon launch a counter attack.

“We shall fight the enemy wherever they are,” he said.

In recent years, the Somali government has made little effort to provide services to its citizens despite receiving tens of millions of dollars in cash from foreign donors. Ali said he would declare such donations in the future, making it easier to see how the government was spending the money.

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