GAROWE, Somalia July 25 (Garowe Online) – Interim Somali President Abdullahi Yusuf has landed at a small airport in the outskirts of Garowe, capital of the northern state of Puntland, with conflicting reports emerging from his Saturday visit.
Radio Garowe’s correspondent in the national capital Mogadishu reported that President Yusuf’s armored convoy was ambushed by insurgents along the road linking the Villa Somalia presidential compound to Aden Adde International Airport.
There were no reports of casualties from the brief fighting, but Islamist-led insurgents have targeted the Somali president’s convoy at least three times along the same road.
President Yusuf was welcomed in Garowe by Puntland government officials, lawmakers, traditional elders and members of civil society.
The president’s office has not issued any official statement about Yusuf’s trip to Puntland, but our sources say that Yusuf and Puntland leader Adde Muse’s private discussions will focus on ‘new oil deals.’
There are unconfirmed reports that President Yusuf is seeking to ‘rectify differences’ between oil contracts he signed and Muse’s controversial exploration contracts.
As we go to print, Yusuf and Muse are jointly addressing t he Puntland Parliament, which has been in gridlock over the region’s new and hotly contested constitution.
Puntland lawmakers have halted debate on the constitution, but insiders now suggest President Yusuf might attempt to persuade the parliament to approve a constitution that remains unpopular with lawmakers and traditional elders.
The Somali leader has secretly backed measures to postpone Puntland elections, slated for January 2009, fearing instability in his home region before Somali national elections are held in mid-2009.
Puntland MP Ahmed Barre told Radio Garowe that the new constitution gives the current government of Adde Muse a five-year term, instead of a four-year mandate that ends in January 2009. [Read: Under new constitution, 1 year left in office for Puntland govt: MP]
Since 2004, President Yusuf’s interim government has struggled to assert real control in Mogadishu and other main towns, as Islamist-led rebels continue an insurgency to expel Ethiopian troops backing the weak government.