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Somalia: Jihadists, regime eye big pushes

Chinese foreign minister visits Togo
Lome (AFP) Feb 15, 2011 - Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi visited the West African nation of Togo on Tuesday, stopping at the tomb of the country's former dictator and promising aid for areas such as health care and education. Yang and his Togolese counterpart, Elliott Ohin, signed a deal for a six million euro grant in Kara, the ruling party's home base and native region of longtime leader General Gnassingbe Eyadema, whose son is now president state media said. The grant is to be used for projects related to agriculture, health care and education. "In recent years, especially since the state visit by Mr. Gnassingbe to China in 2006, relations between the two countries have moved on an accelerated course of development, marked by unfailing mutual political trust," Yang told reporters, speaking through a translator.

President Faure Gnassingbe visited China in 2006. Yang, on an African tour, held talks with Gnassingbe in Kara and visited a Chinese-built hospital. He also visited the tomb of the president's father, who ruled the country with an iron fist for 38 years until his death in 2005, state television showed. China, which has invested heavily in Africa as it seeks to fulfill its growing need for natural resources, has financed a significant number of projects in Togo, including construction of the country's largest stadium. Togo's main commodity is phosphates and the country produces cotton, among other crops, though the small nation is among the poorest in the region.

Casamance separatists seek independence referendum
Ziguinchor (AFP) Feb 15, 2011 - A leader of the separatist rebellion in Senegal's restive southern Casamance region has asked the African Union (AU) to organize a self-determination referendum in the territory. In a letter to AU Commission chief Jean Ping, a copy of which was obtained by AFP Tuesday, Ansoumane Badji of the Movement of Democratic Forces in the Casamance (MFDC) urged the pan-African bloc "to make all the necessary arrangements to organise and supervise a referendum for the region's self-determination." "Common sense dictates that we find a peaceful solution by referendum to enable the people of Casamance to speak freely about their future."

An armed rebellion for independence has been under way in Casamance, separated from the rest of Senegal by Gambia, since 1982. Sporadic outbreaks of violence persist despite a peace accord signed in 2004, and negotiations are hampered by the fact that the MFDC is split into different factions. The referendum call comes amid rising tensions, with 12 soldiers killed since December 27. With its famed stretches of white beaches and lush forests, tropical Casamance could be Senegal's richest agricultural and tourism area, but remains undeveloped due to the ongoing crisis.
by Staff Writers
Mogadishu, Somalia (UPI) Feb 15, 2011
As Somalia enters its 21st year of war, the U.S.-backed transitional government has doled out long-overdue back pay to its troops and says it's preparing a big offensive against Islamist al-Shahaab rebels who hold most of the lawless country.

But the insurgents, who are linked to al-Qaida, were joined by longtime rivals of the Hizb-ul Islami militia in November and look like they're ready to make a big push of their own against the beleaguered regime.

The TFG, installed with the aid of the U.S.-backed Ethiopian army in December 2006, controls only a tiny enclave of Mogadishu since the Islamists seized most of the ancient port city in May 2009.

It is kept going only by U.S. and European funding, largely aimed at preventing an Islamist takeover in the Horn of Africa country.

Both sides talk big as a matter of course. Both mounted major offensives in late 2010, in which al-Shabaab made some gains in Mogadishu. But neither was able to deliver a knockout blow.

Somalia hasn't had a functioning government since clan warlords united to topple dictator Mohammed Siad Barre in January 1991 and then turned on each other.

The country has been torn by perpetual clan and militia wars since, with tens of thousands killed, and in recent years has become an arena in the U.S.-led campaign against al-Qaida.

It's seems strange now, but under Barre, Somalia's military was the fourth most powerful in Africa behind South Africa, Egypt and Nigeria. But the TFG's troops are poorly trained and led and miserably demoralized, according to Western aid agencies working in Somalia.

Despite al-Shabaab's merger with Hizb-ul Islam, the insurgents are plagued with clan rivalries, internal rifts and defections so it's unlikely any new offensives will break the current stalemate. But both sides seem to building up to a showdown of sorts.

In December, the U.N. Security Council voted to increase the number of African Union peacekeeping forces in Mogadishu, known as Amisom, from 8,000 to 12,000.

Amisom, mainly made up of troops from Uganda and Burundi, is the most competent force the TFG has and, because of its firepower, is considered to be the only reason the regime hasn't been defeated.

Al-Shabaab appears to have anticipated the U.N. move by absorbing Hizb-ul Islami to counter the TFG's plans.

On Nov. 20, Prime Minister Mohammed Abdullah Mohammed vowed to drive al-Shabaab out of Mogadishu, the battered seaside capital that has borne the brunt of the conflict, in a 100-day campaign.

But the TFG's army is a motley collection of ex-militiamen and others who underwent fairly basic training in Kenya, Uganda, Sudan, Djibouti and Ethiopia, paid for by U.S. and EU funds.

In January, some 8,000 government troops received salaries that hadn't been paid for months -- mainly because their commanders and officials in the corrupt regime largely funded by Western governments were pocketing the money.

The Jamestown Foundation, a Washington think tank that monitors global security, reported Feb. 10 that the United States spent $6.8 million to train some 2,100 Somali soldiers in Djibouti, where U.S. forces maintain a sizeable counter-terrorism base, and Uganda in 2009.

The EU spent another $6 million training 2,000 men in Somalia, it said.

Conditions with TFG forces got so bad in recent months that U.N. sources and Western aid groups said hundreds of soldiers were deserting, defecting to the insurgents or simply selling their weapons and ammunition to the other side.

Their camps as "grisly," Jamestown reported. "Some soldiers suffer from malnutrition and the wounded do not receive enough medication."

Information Minister Abdulkareem Jama said Jan. 14 the army will get another 4,000 men in the coming months to raise its strength to 12,000.

He didn't say where the troops would come from, although 1,000 Somalis are reported to be undergoing training in Uganda at this time.

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Zarzis, Tunisia (AFP) Feb 14, 2011
Tunisian troops patrolled southern fishing ports Monday, controlling access and checking identities in a bid to halt a Europe-bound exodus of illegal immigrants that has alarmed Italy. Armoured vehicles moved through the town of Zarzis and blocked entry to the port where soldiers armed with Kalashnikovs and truncheons allowed only people identified as fishermen to enter, an AFP reporter said ... read more

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