The African Union has sharply condemned Sunday's insurgent attacks on its peacekeeping forces in Somalia (AMISOM) that led to deaths of at least three civilians. Islamic insurgents attacked African Union forces and government troops in the capital, Mogadishu a day after newly elected President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed first arrived in the capital after his election. Fierce fighting broke out between the Somali national army and the insurgents in southern Mogadishu after the rebels ambushed the AU's Burundian contingent base and a nearby Somali forces billet. The African Union forces, however, refused to retaliate. AMISOM spokesman Major Barigye Ba-Huko tells reporter Peter Clottey that the attacks are a desperate publicity stunt for recognition.
"These attacks are expected and they are attacks from the forces that are opposed to the peace process. But at this stage, what we are talking about is they have realized that they are on the losing end with the arrival of the new president, and so they are trying as much as possible to cause chaos. They are trying to use AMISOM as a pretext, and we are determined that whatever provocation that they push along our throats, we would not swallow the bait because we know that they want us to retaliate and possibly wound ordinary people, and then they use that as an excuse to ask the withdrawal of AMISOM at this important stage," Major Ba-Huko pointed out.
He said the African Union force in Somalia would not be bamboozled by the Islamic insurgents into fighting back to the detriment to the ordinary Somali.
"We know that is their plan, and so we are acting very carefully to ensure that first of all, we do not respond to their useless attacks. Secondly, we will continue to work with the positive forces on the ground to mobilize the population to support the peace process, and that is exactly what is happening. And yesterday, as soon as the president arrived and went to the presidential palace, they (insurgents) attacked the palace. But we ignored them. Today, (Sunday) they have repeated the same thing and as you called me earlier they were shelling one of our smaller detachments at a place called Shakara," he said.
Major Ba-Huko said the African Union forces in Somalia would be working closely with Somalis to embrace the ongoing peace process to establish stability after 18 years of ineffective government.
"I think our focus now is to sensitize the population and to explain to the people that first of all Somalia is not the only country that is undergoing such a process of having peacekeepers. Somalia is not the only country that has had fractures for such a long time, and eventually such fractures have been overcome by dialogue and reconciliation. Secondly, we would explain to the population that we shouldn't be regarded as a foreign force because first of all, this was a decision by all the leaders of Africa, and we know that the culture of Somalia is that they respect their elders," Major Ba-Huko noted.
He differed sharply from critics who claim that the method of nonaggression towards the Islamic insurgents would strengthen their resolve to continue attacking the African Union forces as well the national army.
"On the contrary, I think our method of restraining ourselves has been very useful. It's useful in the sense that people are able to see that we had always been right in spite of the provocation with the insurgents continuing to lose significant points. So obviously, a few Somali civilians would lose their lives. But that is what the peace process is all about. It's not easy to achieve peace without losing some lives," he said.
Major Ba-Huko said AMISOM has chosen nonaggression as a method, despite having the right to protect itself using lethal forces.
"Although we reserve the rights to self defense, we are restraining ourselves because first of all, the attacks from these guys are not what you would typically call conventional attacks," Major Ba-Huko pointed out.
He said there has always been coordination between the African Union forces in Somalia and the Somali authorities to help maintain peace and stability.
"We had started the program of coordination much earlier, even before the expansion of the Somali parliament and the formation of the government of national unity. And we hope and believe that we will continue to work with the leadership of the new government. We have been working with the new president for seven months now, and all the indicators are that we are at a much better stage than we had previously had," he said.
Last week, the Islamic insurgent group Al-Shabab, described by Washington as a terrorist organization, called on its fighters to intensify their holy war against the African Union peacekeepers after the peacekeepers were accused the previous day of killing at least 18 civilians when their convoy was hit by a roadside bomb.