x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Somali president: Government on verge of collapse

The Somali government is close to collapse because disputes within its ranks have allowed armed Islamic insurgents to take control of much of the country.

MOGADISHU, SOMALIA // The Somali government is close to collapse because disputes within its ranks have allowed armed Islamic insurgents to take control of much of the country, the president said. President Abdullahi Yusuf's remarks to about 100 Somali lawmakers in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, late yesterday represent the fi rst admission by any official that the government is losing control. Hours earlier, a radical Islamic group seised another Somali port town, consolidating its control over a southwestern region that borders the Somali capital.

"You know what the situation is. Because of the endless disputes in government, the opposition groups have taken most of the country, including Elasha, which is 18 kilometers (11 miles) from the capital," Mr Yusuf said in comments that received wide coverage on radio stations in Somalia. Mr Yusuf said his government only had control of the capital and the southwestern town of Baidoa, which is the seat of Parliament.

"Imagine how the country's future will be if Al-Shabab takes (control of Somalia). It is really at risk," the president said, referring to one of the Islamic groups that has recently made significant territorial gains. The Somali lawmakers came to Kenya two weeks ago to meet with regional leaders for a one-day meeting to discuss Somalia's future. They have stayed on, in part because many of their families live in the safety of Nairobi. Mr Yusuf appealed to the lawmakers to return to Somalia and take steps aimed at "saving a government on the verge of total collapse."

He said that he had still failed to agree with his prime minister on a Cabinet. Last month, a regional grouping that mediated the formation of Somalia's government gave the Somali leaders until Thursday to form a new Cabinet. The seven-nation grouping, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development, did not say what would happen if the leaders failed to meet the deadline. In its latest offensive, Al-Shabab yesterday seized without resistance the port town of Barawe, 110 miles (180 kilometres) southwest of Mogadishu.

The US considers al-Shabab - meaning The Youth - a militant organisation and accuses the group of harbouring the al qa'eda-linked suspects who allegedly blew up the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998, killing more than 230 people. Officials of a separate Islamic group yesterday publicly whipped 32 traditional dancers in the southern town of Balad because they said it is "Un-Islamic" for men and women to dance together.

Islamic fighters have seized most of southern Somalia, but unlike in 2006 when they operated under one umbrella group, they are split and at times compete for control of the same key towns. For almost two years the Islamic fighters have launched a vicious insurgency, mainly in Mogadishu, that has killed thousands of civilians and sent an estimated half of the capital's two million people fleeing from near-daily roadside bombings and remote-controlled explosions.

*AP