MOGADISHU (Reuters) - Islamist rebels on Tuesday dismissed Somalia’s presidential election as a ploy by the West to boost its economic and strategic interests in the country.
They branded the new leader, Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, a traitor and said they would keep up their war to make Somalia a strict Islamic state.
Somalian lawmakers on Monday elected political newcomer Mohamud as president in the most inclusive election in the country in years, ousting Sheikh Sharif Ahmed.
Among the former academic’s priorities will be to crush the militant al Shabaab group, who have fought for five years in an insurgency that has killed thousands of people but is now under pressure from regional military forces.
Al Shabaab spokesman Sheikh Ali Mahmud Rage said the group did not regard the election as being in the Somali people’s interests.
“They represent Western interests, and interests of their agents in the region,” he said in a statement.
“The so-called election came to maintain the status quo, allowing foreign companies to steal Somalia’s resources and to destroy its economy. Sharif’s replacement is nothing more than a revised edition of traitors serving those interests.”
The statement did not spell out where the West’s interests lay but there is growing international interest in Somalia’s oil and gas potential. Illegal fishing by foreign trawlers in Somali waters also angers many Somalis.
The Horn of Africa country is also a battleground in the U.S.-led war against militant Islam and a threat to regional stability.
Rage urged Somalis to support the militants’ Holy War and said the fight would go on until its own strict interpretation of Sharia law was imposed nationwide.
“We will continue to fight these apostates as we have been fighting them before,” he said.
In the past 13 months, al Shabaab has lost strongholds across southern and central Somalia in the face of advances by an African Union peacekeeping force, as well as Kenyan and Ethiopian forces deployed inside Somalia.
The regional allies now have their sights trained on the southern port city of Kismayu, base for al Shabaab’s operations.
Senior African Union official Wafula Wamunyinyi said the militants had no chance of keeping Kismayu.
“Whether they concentrate forces there or not, they’ll be defeated. Al Shabaab do not have a chance to survive beyond this transition,” he told reporters in the Somali capital Mogadishu.
Many of the group’s foreign fighters were fleeing Somalia, he added.
“They’ve been moving to Yemen, according to sources. Some of them (are) crossing into Kenya,” Wamunyinyi said.
Western officials have hailed the presidential vote, the first of its kind in Somalia in 45 years, saying it showed Somalis were ready to break away from the endless bloodshed and endemic corruption that has plagued the country for decades.
“It’s really extraordinary that despite all the pressures, despite all the benefits of incumbency that the outgoing leaders had, they performed very poorly and this was an outright victory by this new leader,” U.N. Special Envoy for Somalia, Augustine Mahiga, told reporters before his first meeting with Mohamud.
“And that speaks volumes for the wishes of the Somali people.”
Additional reporting by Richard Lough in Nairobi; Writing by Richard Lough; Editing by Angus MacSwan