By Hamsa Omar and Jason McLure – June 22 (Bloomberg) — Somalia declared a state of emergency amid increasing violence in the war-torn country as the leader of neighboring Ethiopia threatened to invade if its security is threatened by Islamists seeking to take power.
Somali President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed’s declaration came after three government officials, including Security Minister Omar Hashi Aden, died in separate incidents last week.
“I take this decision after we encountered many attacks from insurgents to remove the government,” Sharif told reporters at the presidential palace today in the capital, Mogadishu. “We decided to impose martial law in order to overcome the risky conditions that exist in the country.”
The United Nations said last month that al-Qaeda has sent as many as 300 fighters to Somalia to support Islamists and warlords seeking to topple Sharif. The foreigners are training members of the al-Shabaab rebel group and helping them mobilize funds and weapons, Nicolas Bwakira, the head of the African Union peacekeeping mission in Somalia, said on May 22.
Somalia’s government called for foreign troops to enter the country to help fight the insurgents on June 20. A day earlier, Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi said he would reinvade Somalia if Hisbul Islam, led by Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys, and its allies in the al-Shabaab militia pose a “serious threat” to his country.
U.S.-backed Ethiopian troops invaded Somalia in December 2006, ousting the Islamic Courts Union government that had briefly captured southern Somalia. The army occupied the Mogadishu and the southern town of Baidoa in an effort to bolster the government, though the forces became bogged down in a guerrilla war with Islamist militias that now control most of the country’s south. They withdrew in January.
If Aweys is “a real threat, an existential threat to us and if he wants to be attacked then of course we will try to do what we did before,” Meles said in an interview in Addis Ababa. “If he poses a clear and present danger, then we will deal with a clear and present danger in any way we can.”
Aweys was previously based in Asmara, capital of Eritrea. Ethiopia fought a border war with the neighboring country from 1998 to 2000. Eritrea has denied it supports Aweys.
“We don’t like him, there is no pretension on our side that we like him or are comfortable with him,” said Meles. “We would like to see his back.”
Aweys said in a statement to reporters yesterday in Mogadishu that the rebels would oppose foreign troops deployed in Somalia “by any means.”
Al-Shabaab has been accused by the U.S. of providing safe- haven and logistical support to al-Qaeda, which aims to establish a caliphate, or Islamic government, in Somalia. The militia vowed to defeat any foreign troops that come to the aid of the government.
“Our cats and dogs are eager to eat the dead bodies of your boys if they will deploy to our territory,” Sheikh Ali Mohamoud Rage, a spokesman for al-Shabaab, told reporters in Mogadishu.
Somalia has requested assistance from the United Nations, the AU, the Arab League and the Intergovernmental Authority on Development in East Africa to help deal with an emerging humanitarian crisis as thousands of people flee fighting in Mogadishu.
The AU Commission said in a statement late yesterday that Somalia’s government “has the right to seek support from AU member states and the larger international community, in order to protect the Somali people.”
Somalia is in its 18th year of civil war and hasn’t had a functioning central administration since the ouster of Mohamed Siad Barre, the former dictator, in 1991.
To contact the reporters on this story: Hamsa Omar in Mogadishu via Johannesburg at email@example.com; Jason McLure in Addis Ababa via Johannesburg at firstname.lastname@example.org.