July 11, 2012
High-ranking al-Shabaab leaders and regular fighters based in the Galgala Mountain range are "rapidly defecting" from the organisation, according to Lieutenant General Muhidin Ahmed Muse, second in command of Puntland police.
Muse declined to disclose how many al-Shabaab members have defected so far, but said the police have already made public some of those currently in custody and will announce others soon.
In recent months, several battles have erupted between Puntland armed forces and al-Shabaab in the Galgala Mountain Range, 60 kilometres south-west of Bosaso.
In an interview with Sabahi, Muse said the local government has spared no effort to promote peace in the region and will continue to work to achieve stability in Puntland.
Sabahi : Why do you believe these men are putting themselves at risk and defecting right now?
Lieutenant General Muhidin Ahmed Muse : The primary reason behind the defection is the amnesty Puntland's President Abdirahman Mohamud Farole extended to anyone who is willing to leave al-Shabaab. They have been assured that they would not be held accountable for anything if they surrendered.
The secondary reason is that these young [al-Shabaab] fugitives have come to realise that they had been fed lies when they were recruited. They have realised there is no religious cause [at stake], that people were being killed arbitrarily and slaughtered at will. They have seen people being killed as they exited mosques, and now, these youths have had an epiphany.
We have learned that that they are not only coming to us [Puntland authorities]; some are planning to escape [al-Shabaab] to reunite with their own families, others are going elsewhere.
Sabahi :Are there plans for these defectors once they are in your custody?
Muse : The government's plan is that anyone who defects and is ready to join the armed forces will be welcomed by the army. Anyone who wants to work for himself, or wants to travel is also free to do so. No one will be forced into anything.
There is a rampant rumour that anyone who is from a tribe outside of Puntland will be killed [once they are in custody], and that is a baseless lie. Many men who are not from this region have sought amnesty; they are here and they have surrendered their weapons. Anyone [whatever their tribe of origin] can come forward. [Once they defect] they will be taken to a suitable place or to a location of their choosing.
Sabahi :Are there monetary incentives you use to entice fighters to defect?
Muse : There is some truth to that -- anyone who turns himself in and surrenders his weapon will be compensated. Defectors who need to travel [to return to their native regions] will be helped and taken care of. We will offer the best treatment possible to those who choose to defect.
We urge those men who have been recruited deceitfully but continue to stay behind that they still have a chance and are eligible for the president's amnesty. They will not be persecuted once they leave al-Shabaab behind. They simply need to notify the security forces beforehand so we can prepare their escorts from designated locations and ensure their safety.
Sabahi : How many have defected so far?
Muse : There are many who have come forward, but I will not give you a specific number now. There are names we have not yet disclosed including upper-level al-Shabaab officers. God willing, we will make those public when the time is right.
Sabahi : There are rumours circulating that these defectors are in fact using the amnesty programme as a ploy to cause harm. How do you respond to that?
Muse : That is false. Young fighters are escaping al-Shabaab in mass, both here [in Puntland] as well as other parts of the country because they have come to grips with reality. We have intelligence officers who are trained to follow up on them, and we have no concerns [about any plots].
Sabahi : How do you get in touch with defectors to bring them in?
Muse : We have a team in place that is exclusively responsible for this operation. Some of the youths who have defected help us, they are still in touch with some of their friends still in hiding and they help us co-ordinate efforts. They relate to us where things stand all the time, [such as] how many people are ready to come in and how they will be brought in.
Sabahi : What are the next steps you will take?
Muse : We are hopeful that we will attain a great victory against [al-Shabaab].
As for the people we bring in, they have a welcoming place to come to. The public and the army are all ready to receive them. We welcome those who desire to leave, and we will take immediate measures against those who remain.
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