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Tensions Grow in Somalia

In Somalia, the head of a clan-based group that has been critical of the presence of Ethiopian troops in the country tells VOA that he has been forced to flee the Somali capital after receiving unspecified threats from officials of the interim government and their Ethiopian advisors. Meanwhile, the chairman of Somalia's oldest and best-known human rights group is in hiding, after defying an order from the mayor of Mogadishu to shut down the group's operations country-wide. VOA correspondent Alisha Ryu has more from our East Africa Bureau in Nairobi.

In a telephone interview with VOA, the chairman of the Hawiye Clan Council, Mohamed Hassan Haad, says he left Mogadishu because he feared for his safety.

The clan elder says he received threats from officials in the Ethiopian-backed interim government, their Ethiopian advisors, and local administration officials. Haad would not say what those threats were, but he says he intends to remain in hiding for the foreseeable future.

Last Sunday, Somali police arrested the spokesman of the Hawiye Council, Ahmed Dirie, who has been accused by government officials of supporting Islamist-led insurgents battling Ethiopia-led forces in the capital.

Both Haad and Dirie have been critical of Ethiopia's military presence in Somalia, which began last December when Ethiopia helped oust Somali Islamists from power and backed the current internationally recognized-but-weak government in Mogadishu.

The Hawiye Council, which represents many members of Mogadishu's most dominant clan, issued a statement Saturday, warning that Ahmed Dirie's arrest and detention will only bring more instability and violence in the war-torn capital.

Meanwhile, a prominent Somali human rights activist and head of the Mogadishu-based Elman Human Rights Organization says he, too, has received threats from government officials, and is now in hiding.

VOA was not able to reach the activist, Sudan Ali Ahmed. But in an interview with the Associated Press news agency on Monday, Ahmed said he is being hunted by government troops, after Mogadishu's mayor Mohamed Dheere accused the human rights group of spreading exaggerated and false information about the interim government.

Elman Human Rights received an order more than a month ago to close its offices for what the mayor called security reasons. Ahmed says he could not reach senior government officials to get them to rescind the order.

Elman, which has been tracking civilian casualties since the insurgency began in February, reported last week that nearly 470 people had been killed and 840 others wounded in Mogadishu since Ethiopian and Somali government troops launched a renewed offensive against insurgents last month.

The Horn of Africa researcher for the London-based Amnesty International, Martin Hill, says his group is extremely concerned about what he says is the deteriorating human rights situation in Somalia.

"We do not know exactly what has happened to Sudan Ali Ahmed," said Hill. "We hope he is safe in hiding in Mogadishu. It is very sad that Elman Human Rights has come under threat, because they are not taking any political part in the current insecurity and, like other human rights defenders, are trying to speak up when they can, but unfortunately have to keep silent because of the severe risks to them."

The fighting between the insurgents and the government and its allied forces is believed to have killed thousands of civilians and displaced about one million others.

Human rights groups and civil society leaders in Somalia have blamed all sides for creating what the United Nations now calls the worst humanitarian crisis in Africa.