Warlords emerge from shadows to rearm
Rob Crilly, The Times, January 5, 2007
Militias manning a checkpoint outside Mogadishu blew up a fuel tanker yesterday,
in the first sign that the city’s newly imposed peace may be about to break down
into clan-based violence.
Warlords kept the Somali capital in a state of
anarchy for almost 16 years until Islamic militias seized the city in June. They
were ousted last week by Ethiopian-backed government forces, and the warlords
are starting to return, saying that they have no plans to comply with the
government order to surrender their weapons.
About 3,000 Islamic
fighters are still hiding in the city, according to Hussein Aideed, the Interior
Yesterday, the remains of the Fiat tanker lorry were still
smouldering amid the dunes outside the city. Its driver said that three
rocket-propelled grenades were fired by militiamen when he refused to pay a
“toll” late on Wednesday night.
Two missed, but one hit the lorry’s
radiator, setting its flammable cargo alight and injuring three passengers
riding on top, according to Hassan Ali. “We had guns but weren’t going to fight
our way through. But then we had no chance to talk. They just fired,” he said.
Nobody knows whose militias were responsible but the old military strongmen
have been slinking back to reclaim their territories. Mohammed Dheere, for
instance, returned to his former stronghold in Jowhar last week wearing an “I
love Jowhar” T-shirt.
The most notorious of them, Mohamed Qanyare Afrah, is
back in the home that was used by the Islamists as a training base. Today he
says that he is a businessman and a politician — anything but a warlord. The
amoured personnel carrier at his door and the ten-year-old manning a machinegun
at the gate say different.
His fighters protected his kinsmen within the
city until he was forced out by the Union of Islamic Courts. For now, Mr Qanyare
says he has no intention of giving up his weapons as the Government has ordered.
“If you disarm one clan, and you do not disarm the other clan, then that
other clan will take the benefit of that, creating insecurity,” he said,
lounging on the low sofas that skirt the edge of his sitting room. “So what I’m
saying is that they must disarm simultaneously. That cannot happen any time
He fled to the government-held city of Baidoa in June when the Union
of Islamic Courts took control of central and southern Somalia. Its reign ended
last week, when government forces, backed by Ethiopian aircraft, artillery and
thousands of troops, marched into Mogadishu.
Many Somalis resent the presence of Ethiopian troops. Mr Qanyare says that they are welcome only so long as they are fighting to drive out the courts.
“What I say is, Ethiopia
should not interfere in Somalian politics,” he said. “They can stay as long as
they are fighting al-Qaeda — that’s a problem for the Horn of Africa and the
entire region. But if they stay or if they try to become involved in our
politics then we will oppose them.”
Mr Qanyare claims to command a militia
of more than 1,500 men. He is cagey about the number of technical battlewagons —
vehicles mounted with heavy-calibre cannon — that he can muster, but an aide
says he has fifty hidden behind his whitewashed home, about six miles outside
Mogadishu. That makes him a powerful force in a country whose feeble Government
can count on barely 4,000 soldiers.
Traders at Ir Togt gun market say that
the warlords have been on a shopping spree. Mr Qanyare’s men have been buying
guns and ammunition, they say, along with Mr Dheere pushing up the price of an
AK47 assault rifle from $150 (£77) to almost $300.
The Government had given
Mogadishu residents until yesterday to give up their weapons, but by nightfall
had collected only a handful.
Mr Aideed said that the process would continue
and urged former Islamic fighters to join the government army. “We know there
are about 3,000 Islamist fighters inside the capital, but we are trying hard to
deal with this matter,” Mr Aideed, himself a former warlord, told a press
The three-day deadline was not meant to be taken literally, he said, but was intended to underline the urgency of ridding Mogadishu of guns.