Thursday, December 13, 2012
By Harbi Abdillahi Omar
Djiboutian troops under the African Union Mission in Somalia patrol the streets of Beledweyne on November 23rd. [Harbi Abdillahi Omar/Sabahi]
Security in Beledweyne has improved significantly since African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) troops took control of the city from al-Shabaab militants, local government and military officials say
Hiran Governor Abdifatah Hassan Afrah said everything has changed since AMISOM soldiers arrived in Beledweyne.
"With al-Shabaab fighters, summary executions were almost an everyday occurrence," Afrah told Sabahi. "These executions were handed down by young judges who did not have enough experience when dealing with sharia law and the sentencing was as cruel as it was expeditious."
Somali Transitional Federal Government forces with Ethiopian troops first captured Beledweyne from al-Shabaab in December 2011, and managed to rebuff several attempts from the militants to re-take the city.
In June 2012, Djiboutian soldiers were deployed under AMISOM to take over the security operation. The final platoon of 50 soldiers arrived in Beledweyne on November 28th, bringing the number of troops on the ground to 1,000.
The priorities for AMISOM troops are to restore and strengthen security and assist the local government with ensuring public safety, according to AMISOM sector commander Colonel Osman Doubad.
"Today, life in the city goes on as normal," Doubad told Sabahi. "The barricades erected by various militias in the city have been lifted and [al-Shabaab's] curfew is no longer in effect. Business has resumed and the city is doing better since the curfew was lifted by the military."
Despite the tangible security improvements in the area, the commander said al-Shabaab continues to represent a real threat.
"We know there are al-Shabaab elements still in the city ready to conduct acts of terrorism," he said, adding that citizens must work with security forces and report any suspicious activities.
A Djiboutian company of 300 soldiers is stationed inside the city limits to stop al-Shabaab fighters from entering the city at night and terrorising the population, Doubad said.
The remainder of the troops are positioned about 10 kilometres south of the city centre in Eel Jaale, and are preparing to confront al-Shabaab in Bulo Barde, about 40 kilometres south-east of Beledweyene, he said.
Al-Shabaab's harsh treatment of women
Luul Aadan, a widow and mother of nine children, told Sabahi she suffered greatly from al-Shabaab militants who threatened to kill her.
Aadan said her husband was an innocent bystander who died in crossfire between al-Shabaab fighters and Ethiopian forces. Since then, she has had to work to feed her children.
After being evacuated by Djiboutian soldiers during the Shabelle River flood in September, her family was relocated to a camp for internally displaced persons in Eel Jaale where she runs a small kiosk near the AMISOM military barracks.
"Al-Shabaab fighters said I was a spy even though I only sell cigarettes and tea to these soldiers to support my family," she said. "They threatened in a text message that they would kill me."
Aadan said that since she received the threats accusing her of being a traitor, she has been afraid to return home.
When militants ruled the city, it was a very dark time for Somali women, said Shamsa Issa Aden, president of the Beledweyne Women's Union.
Here, just like in the rest of Somalia, women were stoned to death by fanatics who accused them of extra-marital affairs, while the men allegedly involved with these women were never found," she said.
Al-Shabaab fighters are known to use fear tactics and coercion to take multiple wives, Aden said. "They marry teenage girls, sometimes two, three, even four, despite their young age, without being able to support them," she said.
"These forced marriages are common among al-Shabaab militia who often abandon their wives and children who then have to get by on their own," she said.
Hope for the future
Despite two decades of war, recurring famine, and the lack of education and healthcare they have had to endure, Somali women are resilient and have faith in the future of their country, Aden said.
"Today we have peace and freedom, which are priceless," she said. "We thank Allah for that."
While the future is promising, it requires collaboration, Aden said. "We have a [permanent] government and al-Shabaab has been nearly defeated," she said. "It is the duty of all Somalis, women and men, to unite to rebuild Somalia."
Afrah, who headed a local militia against al-Shabaab before becoming Hiran's governor, said women, children and the elderly "paid a heavy price" during al-Shabaab's reign in Beledweyne.
"But today we are relying on [women] to rebuild Somalia, which is why for the first time in our political history, the government has appointed a woman as minister [of foreign affairs]," Afrah said.
Afrah said he hopes that "the millions of displaced Somalis, mostly women and children, will be able to return to their homes and eventually live safely there".