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Conflict in Somalia Escalating Toward War

Fighting between Somali Islamists and interim government forces has escalated in recent days. After a background report, Ray Suarez talks with two experts about the reasons for the conflict and the possibility of it enveloping the Horn of Africa region.

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  • RAY SUAREZ:

    Now, the growing war in Somalia. We begin with some background about the conflict there, present and past.

    The fighting in Somalia, after more than a decade of strife, has been brewing for months. It pits the transitional government, based in Baidoa — about 140 miles northwest of the capital, Mogadishu — against Islamist fighters, who seized control of Mogadishu and most of southern Somalia in June.

    The Islamists are led by the Somalia Islamic Courts Union, or ICU. They claim broad popular support in this predominantly Sunni Muslim country. They say their aim is to restore Sharia, or Islamic law.

    The Islamic movement declared last Thursday Somalia is in a state of war. The country hasn't had an effective government since 1991, when warlords ousted longtime dictator Mohamed Siad Barre.

    In 2004, the U.N. helped set up a transitional government. But so far, it's been unable to exert influence.

    Abdullah Yusuf is recognized as the country's interim president. He blamed the Islamists for the breakdown on talks on sharing power earlier this month.

  • ABDULLAH YUSUF, Interim President, Somalia (through translator):

    They are the ones who effectively closed the door to peace talks, and they are the ones who are waging the war. I don't see peace, and I don't think they want peace.

    As long as the Islamic Courts Union are working to the dictates of the international terror groups, there is no way but to prevail over them.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    Somalia's western neighbor, Ethiopia, sent troops to Baidoa after the Islamists seized control this summer. Their stated purpose was to shore up the transitional government. The Islamists, now officially at war with the Ethiopians, want them out.

    SHEIK MAHMUD IBRAHIM SULEYM, Council of Islamic Courts (through translator): I say to the people of Somalia: Evict the enemy from our country.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    The United States played a past role in trying to stabilize Somalia. American troops landed in Mogadishu after the 1991 coups.

    The most vivid image of U.S. involvement came in October 1993, when two U.S. Black Hawk helicopters were shot down over Mogadishu. Eighteen Army rangers and Delta Force operators were killed in heavy fighting; the bodies of dead Americans were dragged through the streets.

    That incident eventually led to the withdrawal of most of the U.S. forces by March of 1994. More recently, some U.S. officials have expressed concerns that Somali warlords are linked to al-Qaida.

    Earlier this month, Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Jendayi Frazer said the Council of Islamic Courts is now controlled by al-Qaida cell individuals, East Africa al-Qaida cell individuals.

    The renewed violence has also displaced thousands of Somalis. Today, Ethiopia launched air strikes for the third day in a row. Other attacks have pushed an estimated 34,000 south into Kenya over the last six months.

  • DHAKALE ADAM, Relief Coordinator (through translator):

    We have no food, no shelter in this camp. Three children have already died. Old people are the most vulnerable, and we desperately need help.