Somalia offers rebels amnesty; peacekeepers seek troops

August 9, 2011

Somalia offered an amnesty to militants still fighting in the capital, Mogadishu, on Tuesday, three days after the country’s president declared victory over the insurgent group al-Shabab, which has withdrawn most of its combatants from the city.

It was the first time the interim government, which has struggled to quash a four-year-old Islamist rebellion, had offered immunity to al-Shabab fighters.

“The Transitional Federal Government of Somalia has offered a general amnesty to insurgent fighters remaining in Mogadishu who give themselves up and renounce violence,” the government said in a statement.

Some experts say al-Shabab’s pullout merely extends the government’s hold on the capital by a few districts and will do little to bring tangible peace to the rest of the anarchic country. Some have suggested that it may herald a new wave of al-Qaeda-inspired attacks.

Meanwhile, the 9,000-strong African Union peacekeeping force urged the deployment of an additional 3,000 troops to help it secure the neighborhoods vacated by al-Shabab on Saturday.

The United Nations has authorized a task force of up to 12,000 troops.

A Western diplomat, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the militants’ withdrawal had caught the Somali government and peacekeepers off-guard.

Issuing a warning about al-Shabab, the diplomat said, “It’s only a question of time before we see them back in a different form” in Mogadishu.

Fears were also voiced that warlords could step into the void left by al-Shabab’s departure.

“If the TFG overplays its hand and tries to assert a hegemony in the vacuum left by the retreating militants, it risks provoking a very strong reaction by clans and local communities . . . to which it has never provided any services,” said J. Peter Pham, an analyst with the Atlantic Council think tank.

The amnesty did not appear to extend to al-Shabab fighters outside the capital. The al-Qaeda-affiliated militants control much of southern Somalia, where 2.8 million people face starvation because of drought and conflict.

Al-Shabab described its retreat from Mogadishu as tactical and said its bloody struggle to topple the Western-backed government would continue.

On Monday afternoon, an explosives-laden car heading for the rubble-strewn capital detonated prematurely eight miles south of Mogadishu.

Gun battles raged overnight in at least two northern districts of the city, and residents said government forces and al-Shabab also traded volleys of mortar rounds.

Mohamed Abdullah, who lives in Mogadishu’s Hosh neighborhood, said the militants, who want to impose Islamic law, or sharia, on the famine-stricken population, launched an assault on two government military bases.

“We weren’t expecting such attacks from al-Shabab now. Clearly the group is still present and still has some power,” Abdullah said.


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