Military emphasis at conference “puts more civilians at risk”

The London Conference on Somalia ended with a seven-point plan aimed at boosting humanitarian aid and support for African Union troops, and tougher action on piracy, but “fell short on the measures required to address the risks faced by civilians”, said Amnesty International.

“The recent surge in military operations increases civilians’ vulnerability to attacks and displacement, and brings more arms into a country already awash with weapons,” said Benedicte Goderiaux, Amnesty International’s Somalia researcher.

“This is a lethal mix that could fuel further human rights abuses. At this conference we hoped to see more efforts to improve the safety of the Somali population.”

Delegates to the 23 February conference included UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the African Union and Arab League and regional presidents, a small Somali team including the president, prime minister and speaker of the Transitional Federal Government – as well as new players, such as Qatar and Turkey.  

One speaker after another urged Somalia's Transitional Federal Government (TFG)  to sort out the political situation, and quickly. Clinton said: “Time is of the essence and I want to be clear, the international community will not support an extension of the TFG's mandate beyond the date set in the roadmap, 20 August...  It is time – past time – to buckle down and do the work that will bring stability to Somalia for the first time in many people’s lives... Attempts to obstruct progress and maintain the broken status quo will not be tolerated.”

Turkey is now very active in Somalia, and its foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, urged his colleagues to be less fearful. “We have to be visible and present on the ground. We cannot have conferences distant from Somalia. All of us, we have to be present there... And here we call on all participant countries to open embassies. This is psychologically very important to give the impression that things will be getting normalized in Somalia.”

Talking to Al-Shabab?

The Qatari minister, Dr Khalid bin Mohammed al Attiyah, implicitly called for Al-Shabab to be part of the process of boosting confidence and inclusion among all Somali parties. “The exclusion of any party at this stage will disrupt these efforts,” he said, “and render any talk about security and stability unrealistic and inconsistent with the realities on the ground in Somalia.”

But Clinton “adamantly opposed” any engagement with Al-Shabab, although there were signs that not all America's European partners would be as absolute. Italy's foreign minister, Giuliomaria Terzi, pointed out that the insurgents still controlled more than a third of Somalia and added, “Their capacity to control that territory does not lie solely in coercion.”

The main emphasis of the meeting, however, was on military solutions, worrying for humanitarian agencies trying to work on both sides of the lines in the south and centre of the country. TFG Prime Minister, Abdiweli Mohamed Ali, endorsed the idea of targeted air strikes on those he described as part of Al-Qaeda.

AMISOM mandate

There was a general welcome for the Security Council resolution extending the mandate of the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), with its promise of more stable funding, extra equipment and more troops. The Kenyans already operating in Somalia (although not their Ethiopian colleagues) will now be “rehatted” as part of the AMISOM forces.  

President Mwai Kibaki of Kenya and Prime Minister Meles Zenawi of Ethiopia both made much of their troops' successes in recent days, the capture of Baidoa and the extension of what they see as liberated areas in the south. The host of the meeting, UK Prime Minister David Cameron, announced the creation of a Stability Fund for these areas now on the transitional government side of the lines, to which Britain, the Netherlands, Norway, Denmark and the United Arab Emirates would contribute.

“This is absolutely vital,” said Cameron, “for those areas which have been freed of Al-Shabab control, to help people build safer, better governed areas, and show those people in the areas still held by Al-Shabab that there is a better alternative.”

Help for refugees

These areas are also being eyed by Kenya, which is chafing under the burden of hosting the vast Dadaab refugee camp near its eastern border with Somalia. Kibaki said: “Kenya expects this conference to map out firm and durable solutions, including the return of these populations to their home country...  The humanitarian actors should now take advantage of the areas secured from Al-Shabab to settle these populations. This is a matter of utmost urgency, as Kenya can no longer continue carrying the burden occasioned by this situation.”

However, Rahma Ahmed, coordinator of the Somali Relief and Development Forum, told IRIN: “We believe that neither the sharp deterioration in the security situation in Dadaab, nor the changing, but unstable situation within Somalia – including areas identified by the government of Kenya for repatriation – are conditions which might trigger a repatriation programme which would comply with international refugee and human rights law.”

Britain will give three-year support packages to help with the refugees – more than US$56 million to Kenya and more than $23 million to Ethiopia. A spokesman for Britain’s Department for International Development told IRIN this was not intended as money for repatriation; it was meant to be spent in the refugee camps, where it was hoped that it would improve conditions.