Reconciliation Is as Elusive as the Escaped al Qaeda Leader

Washington may for the time being forget its hopes of making peace between Somalia’s transitional government, installed in Mogadishu last month on Ethiopian guns, and the defeated Islamist Courts militia. The Christian Ethiopian troops, whose presence irritates Somalis, do not appear about to withdraw any time soon, despite the promise from Addis Ababa. Furthermore, the two US air strikes targeting al Qaeda operatives fleeing to the south with the routed Islamists missed their main target, Osama bin Laden‘s man in East Africa, Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, who has slipped out of many an American net since he masterminded major terrorist operations, including the 1998 bombings of two US embassies in East Africa.

Tuesday, Feb. 6, Ethiopian troops paraded a wounded senior cleric in the streets of Mogadishu. Sheik Ahmed Mohamed Madobe, former Somali Islami Courts Council Chairman in the southern town of Kismayu, was captured there last month during the chase after the fleeing remnants of his movement.

The government blames these remnants for the guerrilla attacks on their positions and Ethiopian troops in Mogadishu including a mortar attack this week that just missed the presidential palace. Four mortar rounds fired at Mogadishu port earlier this week fell into the sea.

DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s East African sources report that the attacks may just as likely have been mounted by indigenous warlords, who are making their presence felt since the Islamists were ousted after six months of rule.

Washington is anxious to save the Somali capital from becoming the Baghdad of the Horn of Africa, victim of guerrilla warfare and infighting.

The US ambassador in Kenya, Michael Ranneberger, has been leading the effort to effect a national reconciliation and bring in an African Union peacekeeping force to take over from Ethiopians soldiers. He held several meetings with Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed, the Islamist leader held in Nairobi, to talk terms for ending the violence and negotiating peace with interim government heads.

But this week, the ambassador’s campaign was set back by the abrupt refusal of Somali’s interim president Abdulahi Yusuf Ahmed to enter into a dialogue with any heads of the ousted Islamist movement. Yusuf Ahmed, supposed to have flow to Yemen Monday, was refused asylum by the Sanaa government.

Whereas the Americans describe Sheik Ahmed as a moderate, they believe some of the hardline Islamists are regrouping in Saudi Arabia and Eritrea, which backed the Islamist cause before and may do so again.

Confirming Fazul’s escape from Somalia, where he had enjoyed sanctuary and a secure base of operation for some years, a local paper reported he had turned up in Madagascar. According to the account, which is not independently confirmed, he is now directing al Qaeda’s activities in the region from a hideout in the port city of Majunga in the northwest of the island.

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