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Spokesman Says AMISOM Would Deal with al-Shabab Threat

The African Union military force in Somalia (AMISOM) says it is ready to deal with threats posed by Islamists al-Shabab. The assurance comes after the Islamic group Sunday threatened to continue fighting any international force slated to intervene after Ethiopian troops leave. AMISOM says it has the backing of ordinary Somalis, who have been expressing their frustration with increasing attacks perpetuated by al-Shabab. Some political analysts, however, believe the withdrawal of Ethiopian troops would plunge the country into chaos. But some Somalis say the Ethiopian troop pullout would seriously undermine the support that al-Shabab has been enjoying so far. Washington has classified al-Shabab as a terrorist organization. AMISOM spokesman Major Barigye Ba-Hoku tells reporter Peter Clottey that ordinary Somalis want peace and stability to return to the country.

"As AMISOM, what (al-Shabab spokesman) Muqtar Robow is saying is nothing new into this mission area. Secondly, we know that the people of Somalia are tired of war, and so what we have been trying to do is to mobilize the positive forces inside and outside Somalia to work with us, especially, the Somalis," Ba-Hoku noted.

He said a military option is not the only solution to resolving Somalia's instability.

"Our understanding of the problem here is that there is no amount of force can resolve this conflict here. And fortunately enough, the majority of the people of Somalia want peace, and we are working with the majority. And we are sure that with the majority, the minority would soon be one of us. Preparations are already done, and the Djibouti agreement says that once the Ethiopian troops withdrew, there would be an arrangement between the Joint Security Committees, which are constituted by the Transitional Federal Government, the Alliance for the Liberation of Somalia, which signed the agreement in Djibouti, and AMISOM, and that is what exactly is taking place," He said.

Ba-Hoku said AMISIOM is in Somalia to ensure peace and stability.

"So I think our understanding as troops in the mission area is that there is nothing that is lost. And we would continue to help the people of Somalia to achieve peace," Ba-Hoku pointed out.

He said AMISOM would be resolute in providing security for ordinary Somalis despite threats of Islamists insurgents.

"The assurance from AMISOM is the same assurance we had always given. First of all, you will recall that with our arrival into this mission area, there were many obstacles. And among other things, it was believed that Somalia was a no-go area and having been in this area for two years there is nothing that convinces me that this country is a no-go area. Yes, we admit there are difficulties, there are challenges and hardships. But I mean what else can the rest of the world do? Leave Somalis to go to the drains? And then for it to become the breeding grounds for all sorts of criminals?" he asked.

Ba-Hoku said the ongoing instability is a result of an absence of a fully functional Somali government.

"Some of the people we are dealing with are simply taking advantage of a vacuum that ash emanated from a lack of government for the last 18years. There is no more amount of time that we can give to this country to sort out themselves alone," Ba-Hoku pointed out.

He said AMISOM's lack of the much needed manpower would be a herculean task in its bid to ensure absolute peace and stability in Somalia.

"That is one of the challenges. You will recall that the amount of troops that was planned for was eight thousand, and as we speak today, the troops are about three thousand, six hundred, thereabout. Certainly, there is a big shortage, and when you consider that the Ethiopian troops are withdrawing, obviously that one makes us thinner on the ground. It creates strains us, and we would be overstretched, obviously," he said.

Ba-Hoku said there is need to ensure Somalia is stable.

"I think for us as members that have been deployed into this mission area from the African Union, a pan-African solution, a pan-African approach to the problem is the way to go. I think there is no amount of sacrifices that we should not do to achieve that," he said.

However, he said there are ongoing discussions to ensure an increase in African Union forces in Somalia.

"I know that there are consultations at the highest levels between the heads of state, the armies of these countries, the African Union Commission, the Transitional Federal Government here, and the leadership of AMISOM. What I can assure is that I think sooner than later, my opinion is that the year 2009 is a very defining year for Somalia," he said.

The spokesman for al-Shabab, Sheik Muqtar Robow, warned of clashes between insurgent fighters in Somalia and reiterated their resolve to continue fighting the Ethiopian troops, who began withdrawing from Mogadishu on Friday. He vowed that his forces would continue attacking the retreating Ethiopian troops. Robow pledged that the fighting would not stop, even after the Ethiopian troops' withdrawal is completed over the coming days.