RRA sets up autonomous region

The Rahanweyn Resistance Army (RRA), which controls the Bay and Bakol regions, southwestern Somalia, has set up a new regional administration, an RRA senior official told IRIN on Monday. The new autonomous region would be known as the State of Southwestern Somalia, Muhammad Ali Adan Qalinle, the governor of Baidoa, said.

This is the third regional administration to be set up in Somalia, following the establishment of Somaliland (northwestern Somalia) and Puntland (in the northeast).

The decision was reached at a meeting of the RRA central committee and over 70 elders from the Digil and Mirifle clans. The meeting, which had been in session in Baidoa, the capital of Bay Region, 240 km southwest of Mogadishu, since 22 March, elected Colonel Hasan Muhammad Nur Shatigadud, the chairman of the RRA, as president on Sunday. "He was inaugurated in Baidoa today, and will serve an initial four year term," Qalinle told IRIN on Monday. Baidoa will be the capital of the new state.

Shatigadud was a colonel in the notorious secret police, the National Security Service (NSS) of the former dictator Muhammad Siyad Barre, Somali sources told IRIN on Monday. A member of the Harin sub-clan of the main Rahanweyn clan, he set up the RRA in 1995 to resist the occupation of the area by the late faction leader, General Muhammad Farah Aydid, whose forces invaded the Bay and Bakol regions the same year.

Shatigadud had no opponents and was elected "by acclamation" by the meeting. He will be assisted by two vice-presidents, and will appoint 19 cabinet ministers and 19 deputy ministers, said Qalinle. Qalinle said that the new president would name his cabinet before the reconciliation talks due to be convened in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, this month.

The move to establish the autonomous region now is seen by Somali observers as a way for the RRA "to come to the talks as an established administration as opposed to a faction". It may also sound the death knell of the Somali Reconciliation and Restoration Council (SRRC) said one observer. The SRRC is grouping of southern factions opposed to the Transitional National Government.

"The RRA controls the base from which the SRRC operates, and many of its members are factions in name only, controlling little or no territory," he said. Qalinle, however, dismissed this suggestion, saying: "Yes, we will go to Nairobi as the autonomous Southwestern State of Somalia, but we will still be under the SRRC umbrella." He added that the SRRC would be represented in the cabinet of the new regional administration.

The move to set up the administration was very popular with ordinary people, who had long agitated for the RRA to transform itself into a functioning administration, a local source in Baidoa told IRIN. However, according to this source, the idea that the new president might appoint some members of the SRRC to his cabinet was not being well received. "Any attempt to bring non-Digil and Mirifle SRRC members into the administration will not be popular and will probably stir up divisions," he said.