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Last Updated: Friday, 26 May 2006, 11:16 GMT 12:16 UK
Mogadishu battle threatens Somali peace process
By Karen Allen
BBC News, Baidoa

Baidoa, where Somalia's transitional government is based, may be out of earshot of the gunfire in the capital, Mogadishu, but the effects of the escalating violence are being intensely felt.

Somali gunman
Becoming a gunman is one of the quickest ways to earn money in Somalia
Roadblocks along the main road which link Baidoa to Mogadishu, 200km to the south, have been strengthened in the past few days in a bid to limit the passage of weapons, while families fleeing the bloodshed in the capital are seeking refuge in the town.

All eyes are focused on the transitional government, to see what it will do next.

Crippled by 15 years of civil war, Somalia is ill-equipped to deal with hostilities in Mogadishu.

It faces the challenge of having to rebuild a police force, a judicial system and an integrated army, but this will take years, as well as a firm commitment by the international community to support the government.

Weak government

After 14 failed attempts to establish an administration, Somalia does now at least have a transitional federal government established in 2004, but it is far from united.

Clan rivalries and rows over resources are a divisive force - and there are many parts of Somalia, including the capital Mogadishu, where the government has little control.

Woman in front of ruined building
Baidoa may be peaceful now but it is ruins after years of war
Since the fighting in Mogadishu intensified and a ceasefire earlier this month failed, there have been calls for ministers linked to the alliance of warlords, to step down.

This week they were given a deadline, but it came and went and the ministers remain in their jobs.

This sense that the government is weak is precisely the reason that has driven the alliance of warlords to take matters into their own hands, and hunt down what they believe are al- Qaeda supporters being given safe haven by the Union of Islamic Courts in Mogadishu.

"We don't have an alternative because our country has no effective government," Bashir Rageh one of the leaders of the warlords alliance, told the BBC.

"That's why Somalia has become the home of terrorist groups. When we realised all this was happening we decided we had to do something - they are only a government in name - they are ineffective."

Clan rivalries

Parliament, housed in what was once a grain warehouse in Baidoa, has been meeting and debating the crisis in the capital, but faces paralysis over what to do.

It too is a patchwork of clan rivalries and regional affiliations, at times rowdy and undisciplined.

The speaker has now established three parliamentary committees to investigate the outbreak of violence in Mogadishu but it is hard to see a way forward soon.

Meanwhile the human tragedy of the mayhem in Mogadishu is all too apparent in Baidoa.

Families are fleeing to the town to escape the violence.

Many have stories of friends and relatives caught in the crossfire.

'Safe'

Mouktar Isak Abdi fled with his parents and siblings three weeks ago after his 18-year-old cousin was shot in the leg.

"He was in his room at around 0200, he was injured by anti-aircraft guns, and after an hour we took him to hospital - that's why we've fled to Baidoa, to be safe, to be secure," he said.

Facts and figures about life in Somalia

Safety is a relative concept in Somalia and although Baidoa has seen less violence than Mogadishu - freelance militias are still all around.

Owning a weapon earns you cash in this town, and rarely does a day go by without the sound of AK-47 gunfire.

No-one in the transitional government has yet claimed that the bloodshed in Mogadishu could spill over here, but with a fragmented government trying to manage a fragile peace, plans to rehabilitate Somalia could be in serious jeopardy.


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