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Somalia Faction Reportedly Preparing a Military Offensive - 2004-09-07


Officials associated with the long-running Somali peace talks are monitoring reports that a factional leader who earlier walked away from the talks is now preparing to launch a major offensive against the Somali port city of Kismayo.

Factional leader Mohammed Hersi, commonly known as General Morgan, is reportedly planning to move his militia close to the strategic port city of Kismayo, near the Kenyan border.

The Juba Valley Alliance controls the Kismayo area. Its secretary, Abdirizak Ashkir, told VOA that Morgan's troops are heading for the town of Afmadow, more than 150-kilometers northwest of Kismayo.

Mr. Ashkir says the Juba Valley Alliance is defending the port city and surrounding area, and predicts a violent outcome.

"We are monitoring. Within tonight or tomorrow night, it will be big clash," he said. "The clash will happen between Bu'ale and Afmadow, within 48 hours."

Somalia has endured 13 years of anarchy and bloodshed, with clan-based factions controlling specific areas of the country.

Civil society representatives, 23 factional leaders, and others began peace talks almost two years ago in neighboring Kenya. Delegates put together a constitution, and last week, 265 of a total of 275 members of parliament were sworn in. The parliament is supposed to elect a house speaker and president by September 22nd.

General Morgan was part of the peace process, but walked out earlier this year, complaining about procedural issues.

Late last week, the Kenyan chairman of the IGAD Facilitation Committee, John Koech, issued a statement denouncing the Morgan offensive, calling it a blatant act of aggression.

He said IGAD member states and others could levy sanctions, including travel restrictions, against General Morgan if he proceeds with his attack. IGAD has even threatened he could be charged in the International Criminal Court.

Mr. Koech says General Morgan's actions will not affect the new government or the peace talks. He says General Morgan does not have support because Somalis are tired of war and all major clans and sub-clans are represented in the new government.

"I think all the forces of goodwill will not be able to allow him to do that, and I don't think he will succeed," said Mr. Koech.

A senior analyst with the think-tank International Crisis Group, Matt Bryden, says the Morgan offensive in itself will not derail the new government or the peace. Mr. Bryden says the offensive could cause leaders to leave parliament and return to Somalia to deal with the situation, or could also rekindle old or buried tensions.

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