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Former Baidoa Administration Vows to Seize Control from Hard-Line Islamic Insurgents

Tensions in the Southern region of Somalia are escalating after former Baidoa administration officials continue attacks on hard-line Islamic insurgents al-Shabab in a bid to retake control of the city. The former Baidoa security force claims it has been significantly strengthened after another opposition, al-Sunnah Waljamaca, joined its ranks to wrest power from al-Shabab. Al-Shabab, which Washington describes as a terrorist organization with close links to al-Qaeda, seized Baidoa and the parliament building after the Islamic extremists attacked forces of the former Transitional Federal Government (TFG) earlier this year.

Former Somali education minister Mohammed Ali Ahmed tells reporter Peter Clottey that Baidoa residents are sharply divided on which of the two groups would be better controlling the city.

"There was a clash between the militia who were in control formerly of Baidoa and al-Shabab. The former militiamen made some roadblocks at a palace which is about 30 kilometers north of Baidoa. And when the guys from al-Shabab heard this information, they went there and at night around 2 a.m., there was a clash which ended with death and injuries on both sides. On the side of al-Shabaab two of their fighters were killed and at least 19 injured. On the other side, there were at least three dead and six wounded," Ali Ahmed said.

He said residents of Baidoa are tired of the clashes, which have had a devastating effect on them.

"You know, the residents of Baidoa are fed up with these clashes. They have been affected by these clashes for the last 18 years they suffered clashes between rival clans and between the national army and hard-line insurgent groups. They are simply saying they are fed up of this war which seems not to end. They want to ensure that peace returns to towns so they could go back to live their meaningful lives as they always did," he said.

Ali Ahmed said opinions are sharply divided over which groups are best suited to control the city and maintain peace and security.

"You see supporters of these two groups are living side by side in Baidoa. The people are divided into two parts some of them are supporting the work the government has been doing and some of the residents are also supporting al-Shabab. So it would be difficult to see a separation of who supports the militia and who supports al-Shabab. So whenever there are clashes, the people take it seriously, knowing that the clashes will come to their city and more people are going to die and leave destruction all over the place," Ali Ahmed pointed out.

He said another opposition group has joined forces with the former Baidoa administration to take over control of the city.

"This al-Sunnah Waljamaca group joined the former Baidoa officials to get rid of al-Shabaab in Baidoa. They are, however, far away from Baidoa, which is about 300 kilometers away, which is pretty close to the border with Ethiopia. So they made an announcement saying the two groups are joined together, and that they will come back here to Baidoa. But I see it as a mere rhetoric and not practical," he said.

Islamic hard-liner group al-Qaeda has so far refused to recognize the new Somali government, vowing eventually to take over the country through violence. The insurgent group urged Somalis to redouble attacks on a growing African Union peacekeeping force (AMISOM) in Mogadishu.

Somali political observers believe Al Shabab is the main obstacle to President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed's new government seeking to bring peace and central rule to the country, which has been without an effective government since 1991.

However, there is optimism among members of the international community that President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed's government would be able to make progress in stabilizing the nation. This was reinforced with news this week that the Africa Union is presenting the new Somali administration with $1 million in seed money to begin the process of restoring peace to Mogadishu as well as to other parts of the country.