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1 of 3. Ugandan soldiers serving with the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) move to reinforce newly occupied positions around Mogadishu Stadium in the north of the Somali capital following the insurgent group Al Shabaab's withdrawal of the majority of its forces in Mogadishu August 5, 2011.
Credit: Reuters/ African Union-United Nations Information Support Team/Stuart Price/Handout
By Louis Charbonneau
UNITED NATIONS |
Wed Aug 10, 2011 3:52pm EDT
UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - Somalia's Islamist militants who fled the capital this week may regroup and resort to "terrorist tactics" but they have been severely weakened, the U.N. special envoy for the African nation said on Wednesday.
Augustine Mahiga was speaking days after al Shabaab, which has been fighting to overthrow Somalia's government for four years, pulled most of its forces out of Mogadishu amid signs of deepening rifts among its senior commanders.
"In their tactical retreat, so to speak, al Shabaab seemed to have fragmented into three columns," Mahiga told reporters via video link from the Somali capital.
"One column going southwards, another going westwards and another going northwards," he said. "And they're still on the move. This already weakens their consolidated strength."
Before al Shabaab's decision to leave the city, Mahiga said, the group's funding sources had been drying up. He said that al Shabaab has been "starved of financial support."
"Most of it was coming from the Gulf and from the Middle East, not from states but from benefactors, and the events in those regions seem to have had a negative impact on their sources of financing," Mahiga said.
"And there's also financing locally, like in Bakara market, which has also been taken by AMISOM and the TFG forces," he said, referring to an African Union peacekeeping force and Somalia's Transitional Federal Government.
Bakara market is the "economic hub of Mogadishu," he said.
Al Shabaab's rebellion is the latest chapter in Somalia's two-decade long civil conflict, sparked by the overthrow of dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991. The group is listed as a terrorist organization by a number of nations, including the United States.
AL QAEDA-INSPIRED ATTACKS
Al Shabaab has said its retreat from Mogadishu was a tactical move, raising fears it will increasingly resort to al Qaeda-inspired attacks, such as suicide bombings and assassinations.
A series of military offensives against al Shabaab in Mogadishu this year and a drying up of "taxes" extorted from traders in the capital and farmers in rural areas affected by drought have deepened the divisions among rebel commanders.
Mahiga said U.N. Security Council sanctions had also taken their toll on al Shabaab's financial and military strength.
"It may regroup," he said. "It may melt into the population. It may go into what they're worst at doing -- terrorist tactics. This cannot be ruled out."
Earlier, Mahiga told the 15-nation Security Council that the United Nations intended to accelerate the expansion of its presence in Mogadishu.
He said the TFG, which is also struggling to deal with the influx of victims of a famine that has hit the Horn of Africa this year, needed to act quickly to prevent an administrative and security vacuum in Mogadishu.
"Without immediate action to fill this gap, a real danger exists that the warlords and their militia groups will move forward to fill the vacuum created by al Shabaab's departure," he said.
He reiterated that AMISOM needed increased financial and military support from the Security Council.
U.N. deputy aid chief Catherine Bragg told the Council that Somalia was suffering the most severe humanitarian crisis in the world today and Africa's worst food security crisis since a previous famine in the country in 1991-92.
The situation was likely to get worse, she said. "We have not yet seen the peak of the crisis ... Hundreds of thousands face imminent starvation and death."
(Editing by Paul Simao)
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