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Somali Government to Discuss Calming Tensions Due to AMISOM Presence

Somalia's new cabinet will today (Monday) be discussing calming escalating tensions due to the presence of the African Union Peacekeeping Forces (AMISOM) among Somalis who are demanding they leave. This comes after the government urged the United Nations Security Council to support the deployment of more troops to help restore peace to the capital, Mogadishu and other areas of the country. But Islamic clerics who have backed the new administration since its formation sharply opposed the request for more troops into Somalia telling the government to rescind its decision. The clerics claimed most Somalis are against the presence of AU troops in the country and had previously demanded they be sent back to their respective countries.

Ali Abdullahi is a political analyst. He tells reporter Peter Clottey that the new administration's cohesion would be tested by the controversy surrounding the presence of AMISOM.

"Foreign occupation is mostly associated with a form of subjugation, and this was what was seen in the last Ethiopian occupation in Mogadishu. So, the public does not trust the occupation forces in whatever form or shape they come," Abdullahi pointed out.

He said many Somalis are apprehensive about the presence of foreign troops in the country, including the African Union Peacekeeping Mission (AMISOM).

"The people want all foreign troops out are those who think that their life system would change. And these are presumably the hard line elements of al-Shabaab and all those and then you have those in the business community who think that as is happening now the African Union troops of about 3,500 troops is helping the government in trying to collect revenues from the port of Mogadishu. So, these are the issues which they are scared of and they are thinking that they may be taxed higher than in the case of the business community. And for the hard line groups including al-Shabaab they think that if they see a government that is going to work, then they think their importance would be minimized," he said.

Abdullahi said the seemingly fragile cohesion existing within the new administration would be tested with the presence of the AU forces.

"As you have had the ministers who have been squabbling over internal cabinet issues in public with one saying the troops should go out of the country and the foreign minister saying that there should be more troops. So, it seems that there is no cohesion within the government and I think this is the test time for this new administration. Considering that it was created just recently and these are issues of policy which have gone into disarray. So, in the short period of time the cohesion of this new government would be tested in finding out which side will best push the agenda," Abdullahi noted.

Meanwhile, the deployment of more peacekeeping troops in Somalia after opposition groups have reportedly been using it as a rallying cause in their fight against the AU peacekeepers in Somalia and, before their withdrawal in January, the Ethiopian troops were seen by many Somalis as sworn enemy forces.

Abdullahi said ordinary Somalis are suspicious of the presence of any foreign troops in the country.

"What you have to see here is there is a substantial amount of Uganda troops close to three thousand. In fact as we are speaking the real forces which are helping the new government are in Mogadishu or otherwise the new administration would have been driven out of the city. So, an increase in number from three thousand to let's say eight thousand, would have some logistical challenges in the form of financing or funding. There is also the issue of huge increases of groups, which some people think they would be used for other agendas," Abdullahi pointed out.

The Somali Foreign Minister Mohamed Abdulahi Omar last Friday urged the United Nations Security Council to support the deployment of three more battalions from Uganda and Burundi, to reinforce the nearly 3,400 peacekeepers from the two countries now based in Mogadishu, the Somali capital. But Sheikh Bashir Ahmed Salad, who is the chairman of the Somali Islamic Scholars Association, said his organization was unanimously opposed to any further deployment of foreign forces in Somalia.

The scholars' group, which previously recommended to the Somali government that the African Union peacekeepers be sent back to their respective countries, is one of the staunchest supporters of the new government dominated by moderate Islamists.