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Page last updated at 11:49 GMT, Wednesday, 7 October 2009 12:49 UK

Uganda releases Somali minister

Sheikh Yusuf Mohamed Siad
Sheikh Yusuf Mohamed Siad was a former Islamist warlord

Somalia's junior minister for defence who was briefly held in Uganda has been released, Uganda's army spokesman says.

Sheikh Yusuf Mohamed Siad, a former Islamist warlord, was detained by Ugandan security forces during a trip to the capital Kampala on Tuesday.

Army spokesman Lt Col Felix Kulayigye said he was arrested following a tip-off that a Somali dissident had entered the country.

When it became clear who the man was, he was set free, Col Kulayigye said.

The honourable minister for defence for Somalia... was a victim of our security vigilance and alertness
Army spokesman Felix Kulayigye

Mr Siad had apparently been visiting relatives in Kampala, but had not told the Ugandan authorities of his trip, and was reportedly bundled into an unmarked police car on Tuesday.

Col Kulayigye defended the actions of the security forces.

"His arrest was not a mistake," he told the BBC.

"He had not notified us that as a minister he was visiting the country. Had he done that there would have been no problem."

Islamist past

The BBC's Joshua Mmali in Kampala says Mr Siad was released to officials at the Somali embassy and later appeared at a press conference.

ANALYSIS
Mark Doyle
Mark Doyle
BBC News


The curious case of this arrest illustrates the shifting nature of power politics in Somalia.

The world has left Uganda, with some help from tiny Burundi, the dangerous work of defending a series of weak Somali governments in a desperate attempt to stop complete anarchy or the emergence of a Taliban-style Islamist regime.

The problem is those governments keep changing. So when a man who a year ago was a member of an Islamist group fighting a previous government turned up in Uganda, it is not surprising that records had not been kept up to date.

The issue is not so much why the Ugandans should have made such a mistake. The main question would seem to be that if the international community wants some sort of stability in Somalia, why is it leaving so much of the heavy lifting to two relatively small and poor African nations - Uganda and Burundi?

He sat through the proceedings looking rather uncomfortable and did not speak to the media, our reporter says.

"We just called you here to show you the honourable minister for defence for Somalia, who was a victim of our security vigilance and alertness," said Uganda's chief of military intelligence, Brig James Mugira.

Mr Siad was allied to Hizbul-Islam - a powerful Islamist group fighting with the Somali government for control of the country.

But earlier this year he and his large militia defected to the Somali government and he was appointed to the defence portfolio.

The government is backed by a 5,000-strong African Union force, half of whom are Ugandan peacekeepers.

They have been targeted and killed in fighting with Islamist rebels in recent months.

Analysts say Mr Siad's arrival in Uganda would have raised all sorts of questions in the minds of Ugandan security officials.

Somalia has experienced almost constant conflict since the collapse of its central government in 1991.

It was hoped the election of moderate Islamist Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed as president in January and the departure of Ethiopian troops would stop the violence.

But Islamist insurgents are keeping up their attacks and the government's military position has weakened further.

Mr Siad, who became minister of state for defence in June, served as head of security under President Ahmed when he briefly governed Somalia as chairman of the Union of Islamic Courts for six month in 2006.



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