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Marauding Militias Remain a Thorn in Somalia’s Flesh

Joyce Mulama

As Somalia inches closer to peace, a new parliament, which sat in neighbouring Kenya this week, is faced with a daunting task of disarming the marauding militias, responsible for the chaos in the Horn of African nation.

NAIROBI, Sep 4 (IPS) -
As Somalia inches closer to peace, a new parliament, which sat in neighbouring Kenya this week, is faced with a daunting task of disarming the marauding militias, responsible for the chaos in the Horn of African nation.

Somalia, a former Italian colony, has been engulfed in a civil war for the past 13 years, resulting into an influx of small arms such as AK-47 assault weapons from neighbouring countries.

‘’Without disarmament, things will be very difficult. The peace will be jeopardised. This process has to be done throughout the country, from corner to corner. No loopholes should be left,’’ Ali Basha, a member of parliament, told IPS.

The historic event held at Bomas of Kenya, a cultural complex in the outskirts of Nairobi, witnessed 261 parliamentarians elect Hirsi Bulhan Farah as interim chairman. The sitting, the first to be held in 13 years, followed the inauguration of the members of parliament in Kenya’s capital Nairobi on Aug. 22.

Farah is expected to lead the House in electing a new speaker by next week. In turn, the speaker will preside over the selection of a cabinet, which will elect the president, giving Somalia a new transitional government that will rule for five years.

Somalia, with a population of 9.7 million, is the only country without a central government.

It plunged into anarchy immediately after President Mohammed Siad Barre’s overthrow in 1991.

Since then, the country, which is now fragmented, has been ruled by warlords. Puntland, Somalia’s north-west province, for example, declared autonomy in 1998. And northern Somaliland, a former British colony which was annexed to Somalia in 1960, broke away in 1991.

All the Somali factions, fighting each other, belong to rival Hawiye, Digle-Mirifle, Dir and Darod clans. The fifth clan is a conglomeration of 14 minority groups.

The inter-clan fighting, say aid agencies, has left more than 300,000 people dead, prompting military and humanitarian intervention by the United Nations from 1992 to 1995.

‘’Because of the war, each clan has armed itself with weapons from neighbouring countries such as Ethiopia and Yemen,’’ Basha said. ‘’We need help from the international community. Disarmament is a complex process and we are starting from the scratch.’’

Those weapons have also found their way into some neighbouring countries. Kenya’s former foreign affairs minister Kalonzo Musyoka remarked in April that some 60,000 illegal arms had been smuggled into the country from Somalia. He was speaking in Nairobi during a regional meeting on small arms.

Due to lawlessness, local human rights groups say it’s almost impossible to quantify the number of weapons in circulation in Somalia.

It remains to be seen whether the new administration will succeed in disarming the militias, a risky business that the defunct transitional government had failed to achieve.

Established in Arta, Djibouti, in 2002, the transitional government was not recognised by sections of the Somali population. Its president, Abdulkassim Salat Hassan, failed to exert control beyond Mogadishu, the capital. Its term ended in Aug. 2003.

‘’We are appealing to countries both from Africa and outside to support the new government financially and by deploying peace-keeping forces to monitor ceasefire,’’ Xaawa Abdillahi Qayaad, a legislator, told IPS in an interview at Bomas of Kenya, venue of the Somalia parliamentary sittings.

She was referring to a ceasefire signed in Oct. 2002 by delegates to the Somalia peace process. The process, which seeks to end the Somali conflict, opened in Kenya in 2002. It involves 366 delegates among them warlords, civil society groups, as well as political, traditional and religious leaders.

It’s being held under the auspices of a regional body, the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD), which comprises Kenya, Uganda, Somalia, Sudan, Ethiopia, Eritrea and Djibouti. The facilitators include Norway, Britain and Italy.

In preparation for a new government and a post-war Somalia, women legislators are mobilising civil society groups to engage grassroots in spreading peace messages across the arid country.

One of the legislators, Asha Abdullahi Isse says they have commissioned civil society organisations to begin holding talks with militia leaders.

‘’We want to be at the centre of it because women and children have been worst affected by the war. Women and girls have been raped and some even killed by the militia,’’ she said. ‘’It’s important that women parliamentarians take the mantle in looking for a lasting peace, to create a safe environment for our women and children to live in.’’

Of the 275 legislators, only 16 are women (END/2004)