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8 Somali Militiamen Die In Gunfight
MOGADISHU, Somalia, Jan. 13, 2007 — More violence erupted Friday in Mogadishu, Somalia’s bullet-pocked capital, and this time it was literally at the doorstep of the newly arrived government.
According to witnesses, presidential guards killed at least eight men of a rival militia at the gates of the presidential palace as top leaders were sitting inside discussing a new disarmament program.
The bloodshed seemed to be more evidence of a steady breakdown of law and order in Mogadishu, and plunged the disarmament plans into uncertainty.
The fight apparently started over where to park a technical, the term coined in Somalia for a heavily armed pickup truck. Militiamen of Mohammed Qanyare Afrah, one of Mogadishu’s more powerful warlords, insisted on parking their truck inside the presidential palace, but the guards said no.
The two sides starting arguing and young men with big guns crowded around. Someone shot first and each side blamed the other. That set off an intense barrage with bullets flying, windows shattering and women selling mangoes outside the palace gates scrambling for cover.
“They just opened up on us,” said Abdi Hassan Ahmed, a guard for Mr. Qanyare.
Mr. Ahmed, 22, lay in a hospital bed on Friday afternoon with a bullet hole in his thigh. Next to him was another young guard, totally unresponsive, his eyes wide open and his head in a gauze cocoon. He had been shot through the brain, doctors said.
Abdirizak Adam Hassan, chief of staff for the transitional president, Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed, said Mr. Qanyare’s militia might have been upset about the prospects of being disarmed.
“They got restless and started shooting,” he said. “So we answered fire with fire.”
Mr. Hassan said he still considered the meeting a success, despite the fact that eight young men lay dead outside, because several of Mogadishu’s top warlords, each of whom command well-armed militias, told President Yusuf that they agreed, in principle, to surrender their weapons and help form a national army.
Still, no firm details have been worked out for weapons collection and no timetable has been set. The warlords and government officials said they would appoint representatives to study the issue further.
Such promises hardly excite most residents. Several times already, Mogadishu’s warlords and clan elders have pledged to hand over their weapons, but so far very few have done so.
The streets here still bristle with a staggering amount of military-grade firepower. It is not uncommon to see a high-powered antiaircraft gun in the hands of a teenager wearing a T-shirt, jeans and flip-flops. Boys as young as 12 bounce around the back of the armed trucks, providing an adolescent army for the city’s various powers: the warlords, clan elders, religious leaders and businessmen.
Collecting weapons has been the top priority for the transitional government since it arrived in the capital two weeks ago. With the help of the Ethiopian military, the transitional government swiftly defeated Somalia’s Islamist forces, which until last month controlled a good chunk of the country.
Ethiopian soldiers are still battling the last remnants of the Islamist forces in a remote corner of southern Somalia. Earlier this week, American military forces joined in, dropping bombs on the fleeing Islamists, who American officials said were sheltering terrorists from Al Qaeda.
The Islamists have vowed to carry on as an underground army and overthrow the transitional government, which is Somalia’s first politically viable central government since 1991, when the dictator Gen. Mohammed Siad Barre fled the country and let loose 15 years of clan-versus-clan warfare.
As events on Friday showed, those days may not be over. Mr. Yusuf is from the powerful Darod clan and Mr. Qanyare is from the powerful Hawiye clan.
Despite the talk of reconciliation, many Somalis, especially members of the Hawiye clan, fear that the transitional government will selectively disarm certain clans while allowing others to keep their guns.
“We fear not just for ourselves,” said Mohammed Uluso, chairman of the political leadership council for the Ayr, a branch of the Hawiye clan tree. “We fear for all of Somalia.”
Mohammed Ibrahim and Yuusuf Maxamuud contributed reporting.
Source: The New York Times