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Coffee and controversy in 'Little Mogadishu'

Written by: Staff
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ADDIS ABABA, Oct 27: It's not hard to start an argument in the cafes of the Ethiopian capital's ''Little Mogadishu'' district.

Mention politics back home -- or the threat of war between Ethiopia and Somalia's Islamists -- and the shouting starts.

''The Islamic Courts are al Qaeda. Ethiopia should go in and get rid of them -- now!'' exclaims Osman Nur, a 64-year-old carpenter and refugee from Somalia's Puntland region, with a thump that rattles the coffee cups on his table.

''Not true!'' responds another man, shaking his fist as he stands nearby at the pavement cafe in this hub of Somali refugees and ethnically Somali Ethiopians.

''I support the Islamic Courts, so do others. They have brought peace,'' he adds, drawing a tide of derision from Nur's friends that eventually drives him away.

The exchange highlights the divisions and dangers in Somalia, where the Islamists' rise has dented the authority of an interim government intended to end 15 years of anarchy.

The situation is tense too here in neighbouring Ethiopia, which has promised to intervene if the Islamists attack that government or enter Ethiopia.

The Islamists say they are simply bringing law and order, but critics including Ethiopia say they are led by extremists.

A reporter's morning wander round ''Little Mogadishu'' showed most opposed to the Islamists: perhaps not surprising, given they are in Ethiopia and that many come from places like Puntland in north Somalia which the Islamists do not hold.

''All the Islamic Courts have brought to Somalia is guns,'' said Yusuf Jama, 56, a farmer from Puntland who has been in Ethiopia for two years seeking passage to Sweden.

A few, however, did express Islamist sympathies, but were chased away by others or asked not to be named.

''It's too dangerous here. We are surrounded by informants,'' one young man from Mogadishu said in a side-alley.

'FIGHTING COUNTER-PRODUCTIVE'

 Tens of thousands of Somalis live in Addis Ababa, but precise numbers are difficult because of the blurred distinctions between native Somalis and the six per cent of Ethiopians of Somali ethnicity. Ethiopia's eastern Ogaden region is almost entirely Somali and was the scene of a devastating 1977-78 war when Soviet-backed Ethiopia defeated a Somali invasion. Addis fears the Islamists aspire to folding Ogaden into a ''Greater Somalia''.

''They are threatening the whole of the Horn of Africa,'' said Omar Muse, 18, who left the Somali port of Kismayu five months ago, before the Islamists took it over.

Most of the Somali refugees in ''Little Mogadishu'' recounted long and dangerous treks into Ethiopia by foot, road and mule.

Ambushes were common and hunger widespread.

''It is very tough,'' said Abdi Hassan Farah. The 61-year-old, with an orange-tinged beard typical of elder Somalis, said he came into Ethiopia in 2005 after drought and fighting wiped out his sheep and goat herds.

Once in Addis, the Somalis join a well-organised network of compatriots who live off remittances from relatives.

As well as the ubiquitous cafes where the men gather, the streets of ''Little Mogadishu'' are replete with telephone and money transfer shops.

Muslim women lay their wares on blankets on the floor, while the odd goat and sheep nibbles on rotting food.

Among the shacks and more humble homes, however, lie the larger walled compounds of those Somalis who have set up flourishing businesses here.

And while the majority seem to be looking for a ticket to Europe or the United States, some have long-term commitments.

Ibrahim Jamma, who came from the self-declared independent Somali enclave of Somaliland in 2003, runs a small private school, the Somali Education Centre.

''Somalia has such great potential,'' he said, as young Somalis were tutored in British accents prior to a hoped-for transfer.

''What our future generations need is education, not more arguing and conflict.''

REUTERS

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