Somali reconciliation meeting opens amid attacks

 
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MOGADISHU, Feb 5 (Reuters) Somali Prime Minister Ali Mohamed Gedi opened a reconciliation workshop in Mogadishu today designed to foster peace amid an escalating spate of guerrilla-style attacks in the volatile Horn of Africa nation.

In the latest assault, unknown assailants fired four rockets at Mogadishu port hours before Gedi began the week-long meeting of some 200 traditional leaders, plus peace and women's rights activists.

The pre-dawn rocket attack, which came from a residential area of the coastal city, was the latest in a series of almost daily strikes targeting Somali government installations and the administration's Ethiopian allies.

''Fortunately, the rockets plunged into the sea. No one was hurt and port operations are going on,'' Abdirahman Mohamed Warsame, in charge of security at the port, told Reuters.

Officials blame remnants of a defeated Islamist movement, which ran most of south Somalia for six months until it was ousted by a government-Ethiopian offensive over the New Year.

Some Islamist fighters have vowed a holy war.

But many Mogadishu residents fear the violence in the capital may also be due to rivalry between warlords who ousted a dictator in 1991, carving Somalia into a patchwork of fiefdoms controlled by militias.

Today's attack came after a weekend visit by an African Union (AU) team assessing security prior to a planned deployment of peacekeepers in Somalia.

The AU team was at the port yesterday.

Under Western and Ethiopian pressure to reach out to all parties in Somalia, including moderate Islamists and powerful clans, President Abdullahi Yusuf agreed last week to call a reconciliation conference.

His pledge triggered the release of 15 million euros (20 million dollars) in European Union funding for AU peacekeepers to Somalia.

Officials said the workshop in Mogadishu will pave the way for the bigger national reconciliation conference.

''I call for peace,'' Prime Minister Gedi said. ''If we work together we can pacify this city. The Somali people's dignity depends on the outcome of this meeting.'' CHILDREN HELD In another development, Alamin Kimathi, chairman of Kenya's Muslim Human Rights Forum, said Kenyan authorities were detaining two Americans among suspects accused of supporting Somali Islamists.

He said one American was of Arab descent while the other was African-American and being held with his three children at a Nairobi police station.

Kimathi said his group's investigations showed the children, two girls and a boy, were between six months and nine years old.

''The situation is very worrying because children should not be in those places,'' Kimathi told Reuters, adding that representatives from his group had seen the children who looked ''malnourished and obviously lacking in comfort.'' He said their mother died from malaria after they were arrested near the Kenyan border last month, where suspected Islamists have been intercepted while fleeing Ethiopian troops.

Kenyan police declined comment.

Human rights groups say Kenyan authorities have been making mistakes among the scores of Islamist suspects rounded up since the war, with some denied access to lawyers and medicines.

The various foreign passport-holders arrested also include four Britons and a pregnant Tunisian woman, activists say.

Reuters DKA RN1810

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