Somalia’s hardline Shebab Group took over the southern port of Merka, giving Islamist militants control of most of Somalia.
The Shebab is the resurgent military and youth wing of the Islamist Courts Union that in 2006 took over most of the country before being ousted by Ethiopian forces.
President Abdullahi Yusuf said Sunday the government now controls only Mogadishu and the parliament seat, Baidoa. The government, he said is close to collapse.
Rashid Abdi is an analyst with the International Crisis Group (ICG). On Saturday, he told VOA’s Akwei Thompson that it was unclear whether the goal of the Islamists was to take over control of the capital Mogadishu, which he said was a “different kettle of fish”.
“It is really difficult to predict what the Islamists want, but the most I can say is that they look like they have an ambition to wrestle control of the country from the Transitional Federal Government. And I think they’re determined to take a sizable part of the country. Whether they want to take Mogadishu in particular is, I think, difficult to know at this stage.”
Abdi said he did not think the take over of the strategic southern port of Merka would exacerbate the already dire humanitarian situation in the country.
“The take over of Merka which is the hub of the aid operation to the south… is really difficult to access what kind of an impact it will have, but I think just from media reports the Islamists say the will facilitate the provision of aid to the needy, and I think the WFP and the other international aid agencies are also not sounding the alarm…they think they can negotiate some kind of a safe passage for relief supplies,” Abdi said.
Abdi also said he did not think the current insurgencies would have a negative impact on the Djibouti talks.
“Well, I think the Djibouti talks have been going on irrespective of what’s happening on the ground. Recently the head of the ARS (Alliance for the Rel-liberation of Somalia) faction which signed the peace treaty with the government, that is Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed went to Somalia and visited a couple of towns and so probably the calculation on the part of the ARS faction which is to engae in the Djibouti process is that they will be able to, somehow, negotiate with the militants and eventually bring them on board,” Abdi explained.
Abdi said a recent simmering row between the president and prime minister of Somalia which, reportedly, has led to a break down of communication between the two leaders underlines “the serious problem” which the transitional government has, which is doing very little to advance the peace process and take care of the situation in Somalia.