The Islamist coalition which controls Mogadishu is spreading their territorial control – South Africa’s Independent reports that the coalition seized Beletweyne, a key town north of areas they currently control. Beletweyne may be a stepping stone towards Galkaayo in Puntland, a functionally autonomous region allied with the largely powerless secular government based in Baidoa. It’s also very close to the Ethiopian border, a situation which likely makes the Zenawi government very nervous. The Ethiopian government announced that they’d captured and killed 13 rebels affiliated with the Ogaden National Liberation Front, allegedly armed by Somali Islamists and Eritreans.
Image from an article on CulturalOrientation.net
The International Crisis Group, which has a pretty good track record of alerting the wider world to potentially explosive conflicts, is warning that the Somalia standoff could erupt into regional conflict. An Islamist invasion of Baidoa, the only stronghold of the secular government, would likely provoke further incursions from Ethiopian troops, which might pull Eritrea into a regional war as well. Their report, “Can the Somali Crisis Be Contained?” suggests that the answer is “Nope, not without lots of diplomacy and international cooperation.” Unfortunately, international cooperation is in short supply lately – I’m not sure there’s any to spare in the Middle East, never mind in the Horn of Africa.
The Economist has an excellent, thoughtful article that helps contextualize the conflict in Somalia, setting it against a backdrop of population explosion, food insecurity, migration, easily available small arms, as well as religious tensions. For those less interested in all the subtleties, there’s always CNN and AP, which are portraying the situation in terms of “holy war”, with provocative photos of Islamist Somali leaders with guns. The story reports that the Union of Islamic courts is urging solidarity with Lebanon… though it’s unclear just what that would mean in terms of the local conflict.
Conflicts create refugees, and IRIN warns that refugees are trickling into Kenya, joining camps that already house tens of thousands of Somalis. Should the conflict expand, one can expect trickle of refugees currently coming to Kenya to expand into a stream.