Somalia's president was targeted Wednesday in a bomb attack that killed two policemen, as violence continued in the capital of Mogadishu despite a peace accord inked last week. The timing of the attack highlights the concerns of United Nations officials that continuing political instability is exacerbating the humanitarian crisis in Somalia.
The June 9 accord aimed to put an end to fighting between the United States-backed Somali government and its Ethiopian allies, and a coalition of Islamic opposition groups. But some hard-line Islamic militants have refused to lay down their arms.
The BBC reported that the bomb blast occurred in Mogadishu moments after a convoy carrying Somali President Abdullahi Yusuf had passed by. The attack followed fierce fighting in Mogadishu on Tuesday that left at least seven dead.
Tuesday's fighting started when insurgents attacked government soldiers and Ethiopian troops who were searching for weapons in houses in the Hurwa and Karan districts of the capital.
Fourteen people were wounded in the fighting that continued until midnight. Ethiopian troops have been in Somalia for 18 months since helping the government oust the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC) that ruled much of Somalia in 2006.
Somalia's government and members of an exiled opposition group signed a U.N.-mediated ceasefire... but hardline Islamist leaders and insurgents on the ground rejected the pact.
They say they will not talk until thousands of Ethiopian troops backing President Abdullahi Yusuf's government leave the Horn of Africa nation. Somalia has been in near-perpetual conflict since the 1991 toppling of a military dictator.
A donors' meeting in Nairobi on Tuesday was held to discuss support for the new peace deal, with participants including the US, European Union, Norway, the League of Arab States, and the African Union. The deal calls for hostilities to stop within 30 days, with a 90-day cease-fire to follow.
"I am overwhelmed by this new, widespread demonstration of goodwill, generosity and support for the agreement and for Somalia as a whole," the envoy said.
Ould-Abdallah said he was pleased by the traditional generosity and willingness of Saudi Arabia to help Somalia and the region to recover. He hoped the formal signing of the agreement will take place in the Holy City of Mecca by the end of the month.
"Today what is at stake is not only peace and stability in Somalia but the credibility of the international community in the country and in the region," he said.
Meanwhile, other UN officials warned of a looming refugee and food crisis that could rank among the world's worst current humanitarian disasters.
On Monday, a UN official told the BBC that the humanitarian crisis in Somalia was worse than in Darfur. He said that some 3.5 million people would need emergency food aid in the coming months due to a combination of the country's political instability, droughts, currency problems, and rising food prices.
Mark Bowden, the UN's humanitarian co-ordinator for the region, says the food crisis is dramatically worsening....
[He] says Somalia has become one of the world's most challenging humanitarian crises. He fears that there is now a sense of fatalism about what is happening to the country.
In more than a dozen interviews with The Associated Press, the newest arrivals from Mogadishu told of relentless shelling and gunfire. Several children said their friends were forcibly recruited into militias. And they all described frantic escapes, with many walking for weeks to reach Dadaab, hitching rides on donkey carts or squeezing into strangers' cars.
"I couldn't live in Mogadishu anymore, my whole family would have been killed eventually," said Osman, 25, who left Mogadishu three months ago, hours after identifying his mother's body. He begged a ride in a car with a crowd of strangers, holding up his daughters – age 2 and 4 – to persuade the driver.
Somalia was plunged into chaos in 1991 when warlords ousted dictator Siad Barre, creating a power vacuum. The United Nations helped set up a transitional government in 2004. But the weak government was unable to exert control over much of the country.
In 2006, it called on Ethiopian troops to enter Somalia to help fight Islamic militants.
The US backs the Somali government and has helped train and equip its Ethiopian allies. The US says the Islamic insurgents have ties to Al Qaeda, and has launched gunship and missile attacks on suspected terrorist leaders in Somalia.
According a recent report in The Guardian, some Western intelligence officials are concerned that Somalia – along with Algeria and Yemen – could become a new front in the fight against Al Qaeda, as the terror group loses ground in Iraq.
Officials talk about the appeal of an "attractive area of ungoverned space". This is Somalia, described as an increasingly popular destination for "western jihadists", though al-Qaida is playing only a small part in the violence there, western intelligence officials suggest.