July 28, 2006

Plane arrivals stoke fear of war in Somalia

By Mohamed Ali Bile

MOGADISHU (Reuters) - Another mysterious plane landed in
Mogadishu on Friday, fuelling fresh war fears as the Somali
capital's ruling Islamists blocked roads near the airport to
unload unidentified cargo.

Hundreds of heavily armed militiamen prevented onlookers
from entering the area where Somalia's interim government
believes the Islamists are offloading arms from Eritrea.

Residents said several trucks came to collect the delivery
from the airport.

"The people couldn't enter the airport because security was
so tight," resident Hawo Hussein said.

"The Islamists are arming themselves and now we have to
wait for fighting," said another resident, Abdullahi Ali.

The Islamists who control Mogadishu recently reopened the
airport. Since then, three planes have landed. The first
collected a delegation of Islamists for peace talks in

On Wednesday, a cargo plane delivered goods an Islamist
aide said were sewing machines. But the country's fragile
administration pointed the finger at Asmara, which it said was
secretly arming the Islamists.

Islamists were not immediately available for comment on

The rise of the Islamist militias, who seized Mogadishu on
June 5 from U.S.-backed warlords and now control a swathe of
southern Somalia, have challenged the authority of President
Abdullahi Yusuf's government.

The interim government was formed in 2004 in the 14th
attempt to restore central rule to the Horn of Africa nation
since the 1991 ousting of Mohamed Siad Barre ushered in an era
of anarchy.

In what government sources say were moves to draw rival
Islamists into peace talks and avert war, 18 ministers and
other top officials quit the interim government on Thursday and
lawmakers sought to oust the prime minister.

Regional diplomats and analysts say offering the prime
minister job and some other ministerial posts to the Islamists
could be the only way to secure peace.

But there is no guarantee the Islamists will accept this.
Nor is it clear how long it might take to thrash out a deal.

The Islamists' most powerful leader, hardline cleric Sheikh
Hassan Dahir Aweys, has ruled out any meeting unless Ethiopia
stops its "invasion" of Somalia.

Ethiopia, which is allied to Yusuf's government, denies
sending troops and has also accused old foe Eritrea of
supplying arms to the Islamists.

The United Nations has an arms embargo on Somalia. But it
has been ignored for years, and the nation of 10 million people
is awash with light and heavy weaponry.