Al Shabab insurgents are working to derail Somalia’s repeatedly delayed elections with a “sinister” campaign of military raids, kidnappings, executions and assassinations, an African Union official said on Thursday.
Francisco Madeira, the AU’s envoy to Somalia, said the Al Qaeda-linked group was attacking the capital, Mogadishu, and elsewhere to halt a vote that was set to take place last month but was pushed back once again amid security fears and political infighting.
The insurgents have, since 2007, been fighting to topple Somalia’s UN-backed federal government, which is still struggles to assert itself and relies on an AU-led force, known as Amisom, to survive.
“Al Shabab has demonstrated continued resilience, employing sinister tactics, both in Mogadishu and beyond,” Mr Madeira told the UN Security Council, describing attacks with modified mortars on military bases effected to achieve “maximum deadly impact”.
“In an attempt to disrupt the elections, we have recorded the group carrying out kidnappings, public executions, assassinations, and are concerned by reports of Al Shabab using intimidation tactics against local elders, urging them to refrain from participating.”
Amisom has improved security for politicians, candidates and other prominent Somalis, and increased patrols and security at field bases while gathering more intelligence, added Mr Madeira, who also heads the force.
The UN’s envoy to Somalia, James Swan, said more than 700 civilians have been killed so far this year, mostly in Al Shabab attacks, in which militants encircle and attack villages in the country's south-west.
Diplomats met in New York against the backdrop of tension in Somalia, which spiralled into a political crisis when President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed and the leaders of Somalia's five states declared they were unable to agree on the terms of a vote before his term lapsed in February.
After months of a stalemate that at times turned violent, political leaders finally agreed to a voting timetable in June, but that cycle was postponed last month amid rows over the candidate lists and the balloting process.
In an audio message purportedly recorded last month by Al Shabab leader Ahmed Umar, also known as Abu Ubaidah, politicians were warned against campaigning, underscoring the challenges faced by those organising the indirect parliamentary and presidential elections.
Amisom said on Thursday it had started investigating reports of civilians being killed during a firefight between peacekeepers and Al Shabab fighters following an ambush on a peacekeeping patrol at a base in the Lower Shabelle region on Tuesday.
A witness told Reuters that six farmers and a driver were killed in the clash. The peacekeepers seized firearms, ammunition and mobile phones after the battle, Amisom said.
Somalia has been mired in conflict since 1991, when clan warlords overthrew dictator Siad Barre and then turned on each other. Some four million Somalis depend on aid, the UN says, and recent floods, droughts and food shortages have deepened the crisis.