Somalia’s main seaport reopens after 11 years

MOGADISHU (AP) — The seaport in the Somali capital reopened Wednesday for the first time in 11 years, the latest sign that the city’s rulers are trying to restore confidence after more than a decade of anarchy.

Mogadishu International Seaport still must undergo dramatic renovations after so many years of disuse but it is ready to receive commercial traffic, said Sheikh Abdulkadir Ali Omar, a member of the Islamic court that has taken control of the capital and much of southern Somalia in recent months. “From today on, the port is open and the world can send its goods here,” Omar said, adding that a formal opening ceremony will be held Thursday.

The seaport has not been operational since 1995, when United Nations forces left Somalia by sea and air amid political and clan-based violence. The country’s last effective central government was toppled in 1991 by rival warlords who then turned on each other.

The port and its surrounds were controlled by rival warlords whose militia prevented its use. Businessmen and aid agencies used a smaller port outside the capital, with the risk that imported and goods for export might simply disappear. “We are notifying the Somali people, especially businessmen, to use the seaport to ship their goods around the world,” said Omar Wehliye, the newly- named manager of the port.

Mogadishu’s international airport, closed more than 10 years, reopened a month ago. Flights have been coming in and out of the airport daily, but it was not immediately clear how much traffic the seaport would get, Somalia still has no coast guard or navy, and pirate attacks are frequent of the country’s lawless coast.

The increasing power of the Islamic courts has caused grave concerns in the United States, which accuses the group of ties to Al Qaeda.

Many residents, however, credit the group with bringing a semblance of order to a city that has seen little more than chaos in years. The group defeated an alliance of widely-despised warlords during months of battles that killed hundreds of people, many of them civilians caught in the crossfire.

On Wednesday, a top leader of the Islamic courts urged his soldiers to be good Muslims after a few reports that the fighters were mistreating people at traffic stops.

“You must be very disciplined. Know how to act with the people when they are  guilty or innocent,” Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed told a gathering of about 50 soldiers during a meeting in Mogadishu.

Somalia’s transitional government was formed two years ago to help the country emerge from anarchy. But the administration is virtually powerless and controls just one town, Baidoa, which is 255 kilometres (150 miles) from Mogadishu.

In Baidoa a junior minister resigned Wednesday, a day after being sworn as a member of a new administration that Prime Minister Ali Mohammed Gedi announced.

Witnesses said on Sunday that troops from Ethiopia, which is allied with the Somali government, had crossed the border and reached Baidoa. Witnesses on Tuesday reported the arrival of Ethiopian troops in the central Somali town of Galkayo, 575 kilometres northeast of Baidoa and it was not clear if they were the same troops.

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