Somali military chief replaced amid insurgent push

May 16th, 2009 - 12:48 am ICT by IANS  

Nairobi/Mogadishu, May 15 (DPA) Somali President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed has named a new military chief in the midst of the fighting between government forces and Islamist insurgents pushing to topple his transitional government, media reports said Friday.
Former police officer General Yusuf Osman Dhumal is the new military chief, while his predecessor, General Said Dheere Mohamed, is now a security advisor to Sheikh Sharif, a government spokesman was quoted as saying by the Radio Garowe.

The shuffle comes amid heavy fighting as insurgent forces continue to push to end the short reign of Sheikh Sharif, who they accuse of being too close to the West.

On Thursday, at least 10 people were killed and more than 30 others wounded in fighting in Mogadishu. Two of those wounded were radio journalists who were reporting on the battles.

The UN Refugee Agency UNCHR said Friday that 135 people had been killed so far and that around 30,000 had fled Mogadishu.

The exodus is a major blow to hopes for stability in Mogadishu. Some 65,000 people returned to Mogadishu earlier this year after Ethiopia, which had occupied Somalia for two years, pulled out its forces and Sheikh Sharif became president.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in Nairobi expressed its concern about the high proportion of civilian casualties.

This week more than 400 people, including many women and children were treated in Mogadishu’s two remaining hospitals. Doctors and nurses were working “around the clock” in Mogadishu, an ICRC spokeswoman in Nairobi said.

The insurgents have laid siege to the presidential palace, which African Union peacekeepers are helping to protect, and are reportedly waiting for more ammunition before renewing their assault.

Somalia’s government last week accused Eritrea of arming the insurgents. Arms were reported streaming in to Mogadishu just before the onslaught began last Thursday.

US State Department spokesman Ian Kelly on Thursday called on Eritrea to stop “fanning the flames of violence in Somalia”.

The insurgency has claimed the lives of around 16,000 people, mainly civilians, since early 2007, kicking off after Ethiopian troops invaded to oust the ICU. Ethiopia pulled its forces out in January of this year.

The resultant insecurity has helped feed an explosion of piracy in the Gulf of Aden.

Somalia has been embroiled in chaos since the 1991 ouster of dictator Mohamed Siad Barre, and is widely regarded as a failed state.

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