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Somali PM would 'welcome' air strikes against Shebab
by Staff Writers
London (AFP) Feb 22, 2012

Angolan opposition remembers Savimbi a decade on
Luanda (AFP) Feb 22, 2012 - Angolan opposition party Unita commemorated the 10th anniversary Wednesday of the death of its founder, Jonas Savimbi, defending his much-maligned legacy and pledging to carry on his mission.

Savimbi was killed on February 22, 2002 in a firefight with government forces in the eastern province of Moxico, bringing an end to his 27-year civil war with Angola's socialist government.

"All the attempts to denigrate Jonas Savimbi just show the force, the importance and the reach of what he represented for the Angolan people," Alcides Sakala Simoes, spokesman for the rebel group-turned-opposition party, told a meeting in Luanda.

Savimbi's legacy is a complicated one for Unita, which signed a peace treaty with the government six weeks after his death. He left behind a weakened organisation that has never regained its former support.

Unita won just seven percent of the vote in the last elections, in 2008, against 87 percent for its rival the MPLA.

Reading a message from party leader Isaias Samakuva, who was out of the country for medical treatment, Sakala urged party members to use Savimbi's fighting spirit to win elections expected around September this year.

"The man who was killed 10 years ago is still alive, and he's asking us to bring about change now, in 2012," he said. "We're going to make that change peacefully, but with the courage and determination of Jonas Savimbi."

Unita has struggled to escape the stigma cast over Savimbi's memory by the brutality of the war he waged and his rejection of the party's loss in a UN-organised election in 1992, which helped sentence Angola to another decade of terror.

But the MPLA's image has also suffered as President Jose Eduardo dos Santos has clung to power for 32 years and the government has largely failed to spread the wealth of Africa's second-largest oil exporter to the bulk of its people.

Sakala said the country was ready for new leadership, accusing the MPLA of vote-stealing.

"Like in Tunisia, Egypt and Ivory Coast, the time of electoral fraud is finished in Angola," he said.

Somali Prime Minister Abdiweli Mohamed Ali said Wednesday he would welcome European air strikes against Al-Qaeda-linked Shebab insurgents in Somalia, as long as they did not hurt civilians.

As his government announced a strategic victory against the rebels, Ali told reporters on the eve of a major conference on the future of the war-ravaged nation that the Shebab were a "global enemy, not only a Somali enemy".

The Islamist group already faces the threat of US drone attacks, but Britain's Guardian newspaper reported on Wednesday that Britain and other EU countries were considering military air strikes on Shebab training camps.

"I have had no discussions of that with the European governments. But targeted Al-Shebab airstrikes are a welcome opportunity," Ali said ahead of the conference on Thursday.

"But we have to make sure that the safety and the property and the lives of the Somali people are protected. This is the utmost priority for us."

A British government spokesman pointed out on Wednesday that UK forces were already involved in various military operations in the region, but stressed a permanent solution would not be secured by military means alone.

The spokesman praised African Union troops for forcing Shebab out of the capital Mogadishu, and urged them to push on into the insurgents' heartlands.

Britain led on a UN Security Council resolution to increase the African Union force in Somalia from 12,000 to 17,731 troops, which was agreed on Wednesday.

Ali announced on Wednesday that Somali and Ethiopian forces had seized back the southwestern city of Baidoa, which had been one of the Shebab's main bases, leaving the group's fighters in central Somalia increasingly isolated.

He is seeking a huge package of international help for Somalia at the conference, which will be attended by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

He wants aid and mentioned the US aid programme that helped rebuild Europe after World War II, to construct roads, schools and hospitals, saying: "The expectations for us is there's going to be a huge Marshall Plan for Somalia."

But he admitted he had received few concrete pledges of funds ahead of the meeting, adding: "I really have no clue of what they will say tomorrow."

One of the issues on the agenda will be piracy off the coast of Somalia, which has been plagued by lawlessness and famine since the collapse of the last strong government in Mogadishu two decades ago.

The prime minister welcomed international maritime efforts to tackle piracy, but said the problem must also be tackled at its root -- namely the lack of any real law enforcement, and the widespread poverty in Somalia.

For the pirates, he said, "the opportunity cost of going to the high seas is not very high. They have nothing to lose and everything to gain."

Ali, a Harvard tax law graduate who was appointed in June at the head of a transitional government, expressed confidence however that Somalia was finally on course to resolve its problems.

"Now people are ready to put that behind them and to move forward," he said.

Somalia: rebels and regional powers in the conflict
Mogadishu (AFP) Feb 22, 2012 - Somalia's Islamist Shebab insurgents face increasing pressure from regional armies and government forces, with almost every Horn of Africa nation drawn into the two-decade-long conflict.

Somali and foreign leaders are meeting in London Thursday for a conference aimed at tackling the crisis.

Here is an overview of key groups in the conflict:

AL-SHEBAB. The Al-Qaeda-affiliated insurgents, whose name means "youth" in Arabic, control large areas of southern and central Somalia. They are thought to number between 5,000 and 8,000. Around 2,000 of them are well-trained full time fighters, including a contingent of around 200 foreigners.

The Shebab have imposed draconian restrictions on foreign aid agencies, with some of the country's famine zones in areas they control. After pulling out of fixed positions in Mogadishu in August, they switched to guerrilla attacks there, including suicide bombings.

TRANSITIONAL FEDERAL GOVERNMENT (TFG) forces. Thought to number some 3,000 soldiers, but ghost troops boost the payroll to twice that number. Some troops in the national army of the fragile Western-backed government have benefited from training by Western military experts as well as Uganda, but large sections of the rag-tag force are prone to infiltrations and defections.

AFRICAN UNION MISSION IN SOMALIA (AMISOM). The 10,000 strong force is the best-equipped force in the conflict, deployed since 2007 to protect the TFG from the Shebab in the war-shattered capital.

The force is split between troops from UGANDA and BURUNDI, while the first 100 men of a promised 850 troop deployment from Somali-speaking DJIBOUTI arrived in December. The force has asked the UN for permission to boost its size to 17,000.

ETHIOPIA has an estimated 1,500 men in Somalia. The forces crossed into central Somalia in November, Addis Ababa's first large-scale incursion since it pulled out in early 2009, more than two years after sending at least 30,000 troops with US blessing.

That invasion crushed an Islamist administration but sparked a bloody uprising and spurred the emergence of the even more radical Shebab. Ethiopia is believed to have maintained intelligence operatives on the ground and is the foreign force with the best knowledge of Somalia.

Ethiopian troops were last reported to be heading towards the key Shebab stronghold of Baidoa.

KENYA sent tanks and an estimated 4,000 troops in an unprecedented incursion into southern Somalia in October to fight the Shebab. Despite carrying out heavy air strikes progress on the ground has been slow. It has also backed anti-Shebab proxy forces in southern Somalia.

Kenya's primary target is Kismayo, the main southern port and a major insurgent bastion.

COVERT WESTERN FORCES are also reported to be operating inside Somalia. The United States flies drones out of neighbouring Ethiopia as part of a counter-terrorism campaign, but says the aircraft are for surveillance only.

MULTIPLE MILITIA FORCES, including those backed by regional powers as proxies. These include AHLU SUNNA WAL JAMAA, an anti-Shebab militia some 2,000-5,000 strong, who follow Somalia's traditional Sufi branch of Islam, with ties to Ethiopia. Some factions are more closely allied to the TFG than others. The SHABELLE VALLEY ADMINISTRATION -- a clan-based militia in the Beledweyne area, is also said to be Ethiopian-backed.

KENYAN PROXIES in the south include Ras Kamboni and Azania, who are themselves rival forces and who number about 500 fighters each. RAS KAMBONI is headed by Sheikh Ahmed Madobe, a hardened fighter and a defector from Hezb al-Islam, a group that merged with Shebab in late 2010. AZANIA is headed by Mohamed Abdi Mohamed, also known as Gandi, an academic who spent many years in France.

DOZENS OF FREELANCE GROUPS also operate countrywide, banded together by clan affiliations or opportunistically for tasks such as looting or setting up roadblocks. These groups change allegiance on a regular basis.

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UN Council boosts troop levels in Somalia
United Nations (AFP) Feb 22, 2012 - The UN Security Council on Wednesday increased the African Union force in Somalia by nearly 6,000 troops to 17,731 and gave it an explicit mandate to go on the offensive against Islamist militants.

The 15-nation council unanimously agreed a resolution that will more than double international funding for the Somalia military operation to about $550 million a year.

Resolution 2036 was prepared by Britain ahead of an international conference in London on boosting support for efforts by Somalia's transitional government to re-establish control in the country.

"Security is not in itself a sufficient answer to the multiple crises in Somalia," said Britain's UN ambassador Mark Lyall Grant after the vote.

"But it is a key element of the overall strategy that the international community is now developing towards Somalia."

Somalia has had no effective government for more than two decades and in recent years Shebab rebels, who are linked to Al-Qaeda, and other militant groups, have taken an increasing hold on large parts of the country.

The African Union force, AMISOM, has been helping the government to fight back over the past year, however. It has retaken most of Mogadishu.

The force -- now mainly made up of troops from Uganda, Burundi and Djibouti -- had an upper limit of 12,000 but can now call on the extra troops as it seek to take on new Shebab strongholds.

Kenyan troops already in Somalia will now come under AMISOM command. Ethiopian troops, which took Shebab stronghold of Baidoa on Wednesday, will not be part of the force, however.

The Security Council explicitly set a date of August 20 for Somalia's weak transitional government to agree details of a new constitution and elections for a new parliament.

It also ordered AMISOM to move into new parts of Somalia and gave it a direct mandate to go on the offensive against Shebab.

AMISOM was "authorized to take all necessary measures" with Somali forces "to reduce the threat posed by Shebab and other armed opposition groups in order to establish conditions for effective and legitimate governance across Somalia," said the resolution.

AMISOM is run by the African Union but paid for by the United Nations.

The resolution increased international funding for its logistics. The British ambassador said the annual cost would increase from about $250 million a year to about $550 million.

The European Union is the biggest contributor to the AMISOM fund, giving about $175 million a year for the troops' salaries.

France's UN ambassador Gerard Araud said the EU could not pick up the bill for all the extra funding and that new donors have to come forward. The United States, also a major contributor, also said other countries must give cash.

The United States and India both complained that the resolution did not call for extra maritime forces to combat Somali pirates.

"We regret that this council did not include support for maritime assets for AMISOM at this stage," said US ambassador Susan Rice, calling for a new look at the naval offensive by the Security Council in coming months.


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Kenyan troops make slow progress in Somalia
Tabda, Somalia (AFP) Feb 22, 2012
Draped in belts of bullets and carrying a machine gun, Kenyan soldier Philip Namanda peers out into the shimmering heat of the yellow scrubland of southern Somalia, waiting for guerrilla attacks. "It's tough work, but we are tough soldiers," Namanda says, an infantry soldier based in the sun-blasted outpost of Tabda, some 80 kilometres (50 miles) inside war-torn southern Somalia, where Kenya ... read more

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