Somali government offers amnesty to Shebab rebels

Much of southern and central Somalia remains under Shebab control

MOGADISHU - Somalia's embattled government offered an amnesty Tuesday to rebels still fighting in Mogadishu while the African Union force pressed for 3,000 more troops to secure the capital.
Although the bulk of the Shebab who controlled around half of Mogadishu pulled out on Saturday, remnant insurgents have clashed with the AU-backed Somali government troops trying to secure the famine-struck city.
The government "offered a general amnesty to insurgent fighters remaining in Mogadishu who give themselves up and renounce violence," it said in a statement.
"We offer an amnesty -- put down your weapons and your guns, and come and join the people and your society," government spokesman Abdirahman Osman said.
Major General Fred Mugisha, the Ugandan commander of the AU troops protecting the Somali government, called for an urgent deployment of 3,000 soldiers to boost security in Mogadishu after the Shebab pulled out.
"Our forces now have to cover a much larger area of the city and we risk being overstretched," Mugisha said in a statement.
His request is in line with a UN Security Council resolution adopted last December that authorised boosting the AU force in Somalia, currently numbering 9,000, to 12,000.
The Shebab rebels said their withdrawal from the war-wracked capital was a change of military tactics. But much of southern and central Somalia remains under their control.
The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said it was assessing the impact of the withdrawal.
"Although it is too early to know what the impact on the overall situation is, humanitarian actors are assessing the ability to operate and/or scale up activities," it said in a statement Tuesday.
Somalia has been badly affected by the current drought that has left some 12 million people in the Horn of Africa in danger of starvation.
The Food and Agricultural Organisation on Tuesday called a ministerial meeting for August 18 on the region's worst drought in decades which has also hit parts of Ethiopia, Djibouti, Kenya and Uganda.
The agency said it needed an extra 103 million dollars (72 million euros) in donations for its local projects and called for "immediate, generous and effective lifesaving and livelihood support."
The United Nations has officially declared famine in Somalia for the first time this century, including in Mogadishu and four southern Somali regions.
"Famine... is expected to spread across all regions of the south in the coming four to six weeks," OCHA warned. "Cases of acute watery diarrhoea are increasing across Somalia."
Around 100,000 Somalis who have fled to Mogadishu from other parts of the country due to a severe drought are facing famine, and aid groups are struggling to provide emergency supplies.
The UN's food monitoring unit has described Somalia as facing the most severe humanitarian crisis in the world and Africa's worst food security crisis since the country's 1991-1992 famine.