By KAREL PRINSLOO, Associated Press Writer
MOGADISHU, Somalia, Feb 08, 2005 (AP) — Militiamen fired at the feet of the Somali parliament speaker as he and his delegation toured the capital’s port Tuesday, highlighting the challenge his government-in-exile faces as it considers returning home. No one was hurt.
The militiamen, apparently firing from across the bay, shot at the ground where Speaker Shariif Hassan Sheikh Aden and others were standing. Neither Aden nor any of the lawmakers accompanying him showed any emotion, but they quickly went to their next destination, Villa Somalia, which served as the official residence in the past.
Aden and his delegation of some 60 lawmakers and Cabinet ministers are assessing conditions in this wartorn country — where they have no army, no civil service and no buildings — in preparation for the government’s staged return from Kenya that was to start later this month.
The government — established in October following two years of peace talks in Kenya among clan leaders, warlords and other Somalis — has repeatedly said it was planning to go to Somalia only to delay the move.
Mohamed Jamah Furuh, a warlord-turned-lawmaker whose fighters captured Mogadishu’s international port, promised Friday to turn over the facility to the government. But the last time he tried to resume operations there, rival militias fired at the ships that tried to dock.
Members of Aden’s delegation took the machine-gun fire as warning that if the government wanted to take control of the port, it would have to negotiate not just with Furuh’s militia, but others as well.
On Monday, Deputy Prime Minister Mohamud Abdullahi Jama said the government’s return to Somalia was scheduled to start on Feb. 21. Jama told The Associated Press officials were awaiting assessments of the security situation in Mogadishu, the capital, before deciding where to set up their base in the country, which has effectively had no central government since 1991.
Jama said the government considered it important to relocate to Somalia as soon as possible, even if it meant they had to temporarily set up base outside Mogadishu, a city split between heavily armed factions.
Prime Minister Ali Mohamed Gedi is planning a follow up mission to other towns after Aden returns in the coming days and briefs the 275-member transitional parliament, said Jama, who is also information minister.
Jama did not provide additional details or say when President Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed would go to Somalia.
The African Union Peace and Security Council on Monday authorized a regional grouping to deploy a peace support mission to Somalia, “to provide security support to the (Transitional Federal Government), in order to ensure its relocation to Somalia.”
This decision is likely to be strongly opposed in Somalia because the regional grouping is made up countries that border Somalia, whose troops Somalis have said they do not want due to their previous involvement in conflicts in the country.
The AU Peace and Security Council said in a statement that the peace support mission from the 7-nation Intergovernmental Authority on Development will also train a new police force and army for Somalia and go ahead of an African Union peacekeeping mission, whose details are still being worked out.
The statement did not say when the mission from IGAD will deploy or what size it would be. It, however, said that Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, Sudan and Uganda — all members of IGAD — have offered to contribute troops or equipment to such a mission.
Uganda had earlier promised 2,000 troops to an African Union peace support mission.
In December Yusuf asked the AU for a 20,000-strong peacekeeping force.
The request for peacekeepers has angered many in Mogadishu, where the deployment of U.S. and United Nations troops in the 1990s sparked some of the worst fighting of the war. Some Islamic militants have threatened to attack any foreign troops deployed in Somalia.