Somalia: Al-Shabaab appoints COVID-19 committee amid calls for ceasefire
MOGADISHU, Somalia - The Al-Shabaab militants, a Somalia-based terror group named a seven-member committee on Wednesday, which will now work "efficiently" to combat Coronavirus pandemic, it has emerged, amid increased attacks in Somalia.
In a rare statement, the militants said those in the committee are doctors, religious scholars, and intellectuals whose immediate task is to "come with immediate solutions" on ways to curb the spread of COVID-19 across the war-torn nation.
The committee's appointment came after a meeting convened by top leadership which unanimously endorsed the seven members' list, adding that "we respect their professionalism and we believe they will deliver on their new responsibilities".
"The committee comprises experts who we believe will help us tackle this monster which puts the population at big risk. They shall review immediate steps that should be undertaken to curb the spread of COVID-19," reads the statement in part.
Coronavirus, Al-Shabaab added in the statement, "is a western weapon to punish homeless people around the world whose only crime is poverty". All residents, it said, "must adhere to regulations that will be put by the experts".
However, the Al-Qaida linked group did not give names of those entrusted to come with the strategy of fighting Coronavirus. The statement was issued by defacto spokesperson Sheikh Ali Dheere, who maintained that Al-Shabaab is "committed to keeping its members and population safe".
Thousands of Somalis have been fleeing from major towns to remote villages in recent weeks to avoid contracting the disease which has hit hard the capital, Mogadishu, forcing authorities to impose a dusk-to-dawn curfew as a measure to combat the spread.
And Al-Shabaab's decision comes amid fears that the migrating population could transfer infections to villages, where the group enjoys huge support especially in central and southern sections of the country. The committee, Al-Shabaab added, "will monitor general health situation in Somalia".
The numbers of infections continue to surge in Somalia, with the country recording 1,219 positive cases as of Wednesday. Of these cases, the health department said, 130 have recovered while 52 have since died.
Martini Hospital in Mogadishu is the only known treatment and isolation facility and has recently struggled with an influx of patients due to its small bed capacity. Turkey, the US, and the United Arab Emirates donated medical supplies to Somalia.
Somalia's infections are the highest after Djibouti and have the worst death record so far, closely followed by neighboring Kenya. Nairobi has announced 33 deaths and over 700 infections so far, even with its advanced healthcare infrastructure.
In March, Al-Shabaab held a five-day conference in an unknown location where it warned civilians against "opportunistic diseases such as COVID-19 and HIV". The diseases, the group had said, "are manufactured by enemies who are keen to see people dying".
The group did not declare ceasefire as expected just like other militants across the world such as ISIS and Boko Haram, who downed weapons to allow "our members confront the coronavirus pandemic".
In recent weeks, the group has continued to attack military bases and civilian controlled regions, further facing criticism from members of the public. This, African Union Mission in Somalia said, "makes it difficult for the military to help Somalia battle with the virus".
Antonio Guterres, the United Nations Secretary-General, had asked militant groups across the world to declare a ceasefire and allow people to fight Coronavirus pandemic. The move, he added, should be adopted as a sign of respect to humanity.
Supplying of humanitarian aid in Somalia is becoming difficult, following the recent downing of a Kenyan plane in Bardale town. However, Ethiopian non-AMISOM troops admitted committing the act, arguing that it mistook it for possible Al-Shabaab raid.
Although the group has lost significantly in its strongholds especially in Jubba and Shebelle regions, it has, however, managed to launch small to large scale sporadic attacks within Somalia, which targets security forces and foreigners.