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Somali Government Arrests, Questions Journalists


Three journalists arrested by the transitional Somali government are being questioned for their work in an area under the control of the Islamic Courts Union. The Paris-based Reporters Without Borders is calling for the journalists' release.

The journalists were traveling to the government base of Baidoa from Burhakaba District, the scene of recent fighting between the government and the Islamic Courts Union, when they were arrested and detained Tuesday.

In condemning the Somali action, the Paris-based Reporters Without Borders said the three had video of Ethiopian soldiers in Somalia, including footage of an Ethiopian soldier killed in Burhakaba.

The Secretary-General of the National Union of Somali Journalists, Omar Faruk Osman, tells VOA the three had their cell phones and cameras confiscated and were being questioned by authorities in Baidoa.

"A group of counterterrorism officers are now questioning them," he said. "They [the officers] want to know why they [the journalists] have taken these pictures. They are now scrutinizing also their mobile phones to see whom they have been talking to and what they have been doing in Burhakaba District."

The presence of Ethiopian soldiers in Burhakaba and other areas of Somalia is a sensitive subject with Somalia's transitional government.

The Islamic Courts Union and others repeatedly accuse Ethiopia of sending troops into Somalia to fight along side Somali government soldiers, a charge the Ethiopian and Somali governments deny.

Recently, the Islamic Courts Union issued a fatwa, or Holy War, against Ethiopia for its alleged involvement. The Reuters news agency quoted Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi as saying his country is "technically at war" with Somali Islamists.

Journalists are increasingly being caught in the middle of Somalia's warring government and Islamic Courts Union. Osman says both sides view journalists with suspicion and treat them with hostility.

"They attribute journalists as spies," he added. "They do not see that [journalism] as a service of the public. That is the greatest fear that we have: that journalists are not to be deemed as independent from the political crisis going between the transitional government and the Islamic Courts."

Adding to the pressure and danger faced by journalists are rules the Islamic Courts Union recently imposed on the media. These include not publishing or disseminating information contrary to the Muslim religion, the public interest or the interest of the nation.

Somalia's interim government and the Union of Islamic Courts have been trying to negotiate a peace agreement that would see some sort of a power-sharing arrangement between them. The two met in Sudan last month and are scheduled to finalize their agreement at the end of this month.

Since civil war broke out in 1991, militias loyal to clan and sub-clan-based factions have controlled different parts of the country, with no central authority to provide law and order and even basic services to the population.

The transitional Somali parliament was formed in Kenya more than a year ago following a peace process.

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