Government military takes control of Marka

In their ongoing operation to clear roadblocks from the Mogadishu-Kismayo road, and to restore law and order, the armed forces of the Transitional National Government (TNG) have reportedly taken control of the coastal town of Marka, 100 km south of Mogadishu, local sources told IRIN. The TNG forces had arrived on Monday and set up a base camp at the old police headquarters in the town, Sharif Dagaweyn, a local elder, said.

The chief-of-staff of the TNG armed forces, Gen Isma'il Qasim Naji, confirmed to IRIN that the armed forces had occupied Marka. "We have taken control as far as security is concerned. We will not set up any administration. We will leave that to the civilian authorities," he said. Naji said the army would replicate this process in every town on the way to Kismayo. "It is part of our programme to have a presence in all towns to make sure that no one takes advantage once we leave."

Security in Marka, the regional capital of Lower Shabelle Region, had been deteriorating ever since the Islamic court withdrew from the town months ago, humanitarian sources told IRIN. "It got to the point where it was getting dangerous to go to the market," said one. Most affected by the increase in insecurity were the indigenous people commonly known as the Gibil Ad, meaning light-skinned. Dagaweyn, one of their elders, said his community welcomed the arrival of the army.

"There has been a dramatic improvement since the arrival of the army on Monday," said Dagaweyn. "The cost of transport has dropped dramatically. On Sunday, a trip to Qoryoley, 36 km from Marka, cost 15,000 Somali shillings. Today it is 6,000 shillings," he said on Wednesday. The reason for this drop, according to Dagaweyn, is the army's removal of over a dozen roadblocks between Marka and Qoryoley. "Even vegetable prices have come down," he added.

"We are all breathing easier, but we are not sure how long the soldiers will stay," he said, adding that the possibility of their departure was causing some worry in the town. "If they leave those criminals will come back, and then we shall have to lock ourselves up in our homes again."