Tension is rising in the town of Baidoa, 240 km northwest of Mogadishu, due to a deepening split within the senior ranks of the Rahanweyn Resistance Army (RRA), which controls much of the Bay and Bakol regions of southwestern Somalia, according to local sources in Baidoa, capital of Bay Region and headquarters of the RRA.
The tension follows a split brought about by differences between the RRA chairman, Hasan Muhammad Nur Shatigadud, and his two deputies, Shaykh Adan Madobe and Muhammad Ibrahim Habsade, they said.
The problem affecting the RRA arose over demands by the deputies that the RRA chairman, Shatigadud, who had earlier announced the establishment of the self-declared South West State (SWS) of Somalia, "should either dismantle the SWS and remain chairman of the RRA or relinquish the RRA chairmanship", according to a source involved in mediation efforts between the two sides.
"The deputies are arguing that inasmuch as the RRA chairman, Shatigadud, is now president of the self-declared South West State of Somalia, Shaykh Aden, the first vice-chairman, should become chairman of the RRA," the source told IRIN on Thursday.
A 36-member mediation committee, comprising traditional elders, members of the RRA executive committee, and religious and business leaders, had so far failed to resolve the political impasse in Baidoa, he said.
The committee is reported to have sought the assurance of Shatigadud and his deputies that they would abide by any decision reached by the committee.
"All involved had, as of Wednesday, given an undertaking to accept the ruling of the mediation committee," the source told IRIN on Thursday.
Contacted by IRIN, Shaykh Adan admitted the existence of the problem but downplayed its seriousness. "Differences exist, and in any given organisation there are bound to be differences of opinion and minor disagreements, but we are working on them, and I am hopeful that we will resolve them soon," he said.
However, a business source in Baidoa told IRIN that the mediation committee "was no closer to a resolution of the problem" than it was when it first convened a week ago. He said Shaykh Adan and Habsade were resolutely adhering to their demand that Shatigadud renounce the SWS, and that the RRA remain the sole authority in Bay and Bakol, while Shatigadud was rejecting this with equal resolve.
At the heart of the matter lay a feeling on the part of Shaykh Adan and Habsade that they had been sidelined by the formation of the SWS, this sourced stated.
"As RRA deputies they were political heavyweights in this area but, with the SWS, the best they can hope for is a cabinet post. This is the real problem and until the committee and Shatigadud address it, I am afraid there will be no solution," he said.
The establishment of the South West State, with Shatigadud as president - the third regional administration to be set up in Somalia, following the establishment of Somaliland (northwestern Somalia) and Puntland (in the northeast) - was announced in April by the RRA leadership.
SOMALIA: RRA sets up autonomous region]
The decision was reached at a meeting of the RRA central committee and over 70 elders from the Digil and Mirifle clans in Baidoa in late March, with Shatigadud inaugurated as president of the new regional administration for an initial four-year term on 31 March.
Meanwhile, IRIN's businessman source in Baidoa said on Thursday that the city seemed calm, with "no apparent tension."
"We are working and carrying on with our activities as usual, hoping and praying that the committee will succeed in its efforts," he added.