Militants Take Key Somali Port Town
ALEX CHADWICK, host:
This is DAY TO DAY. I'm Alex Chadwick.
MADELEINE BRAND, host:
I'm Madeleine Brand.
Coming up on the program: very fast evolution. Sea creatures on the U.S. northeastern coast adapt to survive with astonishing speed.
CHADWICK: First, more news today from Somalia, where Islamic militants gained another victory by taking over a key port in the center of the country. In recent months, the rebels have taken control of the capital, Mogadishu, and much of the nation's south. The U.N.-backed transitional government remains weak and isolated in the town of Baidoa; that's near the Ethiopian border.
BRAND: The militant's adherence to Islamic law has raised fears of a Taliban-style regime. U.S. officials say they harbor al-Qaida terrorists.
From neighboring Kenya, Susan Linnee reports on efforts to mediate the standoff.
SUSAN LINNEE reporting:
Since the first wave of Somali refugees arrived in Nairobi in late 1990, the Kenyan capital's (unintelligible) neighborhood has mushroomed into a throbbing maze of shopping marts popularly known as Little Mogadishu.
Somalian refugees like Sila Ali Hagai(ph), who sells children's clothing in New Garasa Lodge(ph), closely follows the news from home.
Mr. SILA ALI HAGAI: We live here. We are still happy, you know, to stay here. But we hear, you know, now there is a now a government - another group is (unintelligible) Somalia they are creating, you know, a lot of peace. But right now we are going to return, you know, Mogadishu because we hear a lot of, you know, this group they (unintelligible) that they, you know, return a lot of peace in Mogadishu. And (unintelligible) maybe that will turn around in Mogadishu.
LINNEE: But his return to Somalia hinges on revolution of the standoff between the unstable transitional federal government and the increasingly influential Islamic Courts Union. The Arab League is sponsoring talks in Sudan, but they have stalled. In June, both sides agreed on a cease-fire, but since then issues of legitimacy and security have blocked further progress.
Attalla Bashir is the senior official with IGAD, the regional organization that mediated the creation of Somalia's transitional government in October 2004. Citing an alphabet soup of acronyms, he warned of increasing complexity the longer the standoff continues.
Mr. ATTALLA BASHIR (Executive Secretary, IGAD): The situation is getting more and more complicated. The TFG, DFP, TF institutions are at stake and vital. The warlords are (unintelligible) by the Islamic Courts in Mogadishu who are confronting the TFG. It is a tense case, which (unintelligible) your intervention and your wisdom.
LINNEE: One benefit of the Islamic Courts seizure of Mogadishu is that is has opened a window of opportunity for humanitarian organizations. A prolonged drought has left thousands in need of food aid, but access has been severely limited by warlords and there rapacious militia.
Eric Laroche is the Nairobi-based U.N. development programs representative and humanitarian coordinator for Somalia. He met last week with Islamic Courts officials in Mogadishu.
Mr. ERIC LAROCHE (United Nations Humanitarian Coordinator, Somalia): So today there's a new window, fortunately, for us to work in Mogadishu. We have to take it. We have constant dialogue with the Islamic Court. They are very much willing to see us coming in. They are really very keen, in fact, (unintelligible) to their (unintelligible) that things are changing. Things are changing not only for the well being people, but things are changing for practically the poor.
LINNEE: However, it's anyone's guess how long this window may remain open. Neighboring Ethiopia has reportedly sent troops into Somalia to prop up the interim government, raising fears of a proxy war with backers of the ICU.
Somalia has been without a functioning government since the 21-year regime of Mohamed Siad Barre collapsed in January 1991 and clan-based violence spread throughout the country. The interim government was further weakened last week when nearly half its members resigned. Then, President Abdullahi Yusuf dissolved the rest and told the prime minister to name a new, leaner government by next week.
Abdullahi Sheikh Ismail, who, until Monday, had been Somalia's foreign minister, is a career diplomat and world weary political survivor. At the IGAD meeting, he brushed off the cabinet resignations as classic Somali politics.
Mr. ABDULLAHI SHEIKH ISMAIL (Former Foreign Minister, Somalia): My dear sister, in politics resignation and appointment and reappointment are part of political life, so it doesn't mean anything.
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LINNEE: Meanwhile, Sila Ali Hagai dreams of returning home.
Mr. HAGAI: We'll go back to our country, to build our country, (unintelligible) our country - to be assisted, to return to our previous nation, to build our nation, because it is so good.
LINNEE: For NPR News, I'm Susan Linnee in Nairobi, Kenya.
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CHADWICK: More in a moment on DAY TO DAY from NPR News.
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