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African Countries Plead for International Aid in Somalia

January 3, 2007 at 6:15 PM EST
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RAY SUAREZ: Police patrolled the streets of Somalia’s capital today, six days after government forces, backed by Ethiopian troops, took back control of Mogadishu from the Islamists.

The two sides battled for the country for two weeks. And Somalis, who have lived with no effective government for more than a decade, are being asked to turn in their weapons during a three-day amnesty period.

GEN. MUHAMMED ALI HASSAN LOYAN, Chief, Somali Police: The biggest difficulty which is facing us now are the weapons which is in the hands of the civilian people of the society.

RAY SUAREZ: The Somali presidential spokesman said yesterday an international force is needed to keep the peace.

ABDIRASHID SED, Interim Presidential Spokesman: It’s time the international community and African Union to assist, like what they have done in Congo, Liberia, Sierra Leone.

RAY SUAREZ: That same international community is not sure how to keep the peace or how to cobble together an international force to do it. No force has materialized, despite talk of commitments from several African nations, including Uganda, South Africa and Nigeria.

And Ethiopia, with an estimated 8,000 troops already in the country, will withdraw its forces within weeks, according to Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi.

MELES ZENAWI, Prime Minister, Ethiopia (through translator): From our side, since we have accomplished our main mission, our main focus now will be to get our military force back home and have them participate in the battle against poverty in our country.

But while I say this, we also have the task of controlling the remaining extremist forces which are scattered here and there around Somalia. After completing these final tasks, it is our unchangeable stand that we should get our forces back home in a few weeks’ time.

RAY SUAREZ: Ethiopia, Somalia’s western neighbor and longtime rival, sent troops into Somalia after the Islamists seized control of the southern part of the country in June.

Kenya, to the southwest, has also felt the effects of Somalia’s chaos. It’s absorbed thousands of refugees and has now pledged to seal its borders from Islamist fighters.

Today, in Brussels, EU leaders ruled out a significant European role for the peacekeeping mission.

FRANK WALTER STEINMEIER, Foreign Minister, Germany (through translator): There are three tasks which are important. First, bringing about a lasting end to violence. The Ethiopian government has announced that their troops will withdraw. It is important that, after that, there should not be a security vacuum in Somalia.

Secondly, it’s important that there will be an improvement in the precarious humanitarian situation, in particular for the large number of internal refugees.

Thirdly — and perhaps this is the most important thing — there has to be a return to the urgently needed political peace and reconciliation process.

RAY SUAREZ: Diplomats will convene again on Friday to discuss the crisis in Nairobi, Kenya.

Conflict 'far from over'

Stephen Morrison
Center for Strategic and Int'l Studies
The [Islamic] Courts are in disarray, but they're not completely gone. They haven't disappeared. We're not quite sure what punch they retain militarily.

RAY SUAREZ: For more, we speak with Stephen Morrison, director of the Africa program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. During the Clinton administration, he served in the State Department's policy planning office, focusing on Africa.

And Abdi Samatar, a professor of geography at the University of Minnesota, born in Somalia, he's now a U.S. citizen and last visited his homeland in November.

And, professor, now that the Islamic Courts Militias are in disarray and disappearing, dropping their weapons and taking off their uniforms, now that the Ethiopians are leaving and the interim government's in control, is it over?

ABDI SAMATAR, University of Minnesota: No, it's far from over, Ray. What you have is that the Ethiopian troops will stay in for quite some time, because I don't expect them to withdraw immediately, given the intentions which they have.

But the original proposals which the Courts put into place, or the ideas which they articulated, and which garnered them a lot of support from the Somali people, are still there.

Those issues are a responsible government, and I don't really see that quite yet. Secondly, it was an independent Somalia, and that's not there yet, given the presence of Ethiopian troops on Somali soil, and justice.

And, of course, the end of the warlord terror. Those issues are still there. And so the issues may still be around, but the courts are formally gone, in my opinion.

RAY SUAREZ: Stephen Morrison, how about you? Do you think this is at least close to being over?

STEPHEN MORRISON, Center for Strategic and International Studies: Not at all, no. I think, as Abdi emphasized, the Courts are in disarray, but they're not completely gone. They haven't disappeared. We're not quite sure what punch they retain militarily.

And they had a certain legitimacy among the populous, and the transitional government that the Ethiopians have brought and installed into Mogadishu had very low capacity and very low legitimacy. And now they're at risk, really, of seeing their patron, Ethiopians, slowly retreat and leave them very exposed.

So we could have a further fragmentation and further conflict within Somalia in this next phase.

Capabilities of the Islamic Courts

Abdi Samatar
University of Minnesota
The issues which the Islamic Courts left behind and which the Somali people rallied around, those issues are there, but I don't expect the Islamic Courts as a formal organization to be back anytime soon.

RAY SUAREZ: Who were the Islamic Courts Union's fighters? And now that they have moved down toward the Kenyan border, could they potentially begin an insurgency?

STEPHEN MORRISON: That's the big fear right now, that we'll see a return, much like we've seen in Iraq, of an insurgency that's able to come back and whittle away at the transitional government and at the Ethiopians.

There's plenty of places to hide. And, as I said, they had a certain capacity and they had a certain legitimacy among the population.

The Ethiopians are an extremely controversial presence within Somalia. They're regarded as invaders. And their support of the transitional government greatly tarnishes the image that the transitional government has at a popular level.

So, if you saw an insurgency begin to resurface, it might take root fairly quickly in certain areas where this population is now located.

RAY SUAREZ: Professor, can the Islamic Courts Militias look for support anywhere else in the world? Where were they getting their weapons? Where were they getting their food?

ABDI SAMATAR: Well, a lot of the weapons were already in Mogadishu, and they got those from the warlords, which they defeated. A lot of resources were also coming to the country via the Diaspora. The Diaspora sent something like almost $1 billion annually, and that's, of course, taxed, if you like.

Moreover, the airports and the seaports were opened, and therefore they were charging taxes to those. So there were a lot of resources from within, although some people have suggested that they were getting money from overseas. The evidence for that has not been proven yet.

Moreover, Ray, the issue here is that the issues which the Islamic Courts left behind and which the Somali people rallied around, those issues are there, but I don't expect the Islamic Courts as a formal organization to be back anytime soon.

That will depend, of course, whether the Ethiopians stay and whether they try to create a shadow government behind the Somali transitional government, which, of course, as Steve said, will not gain any more legitimacy than it already has. All of those things have to be sorted out, in my opinion.

Help from international forces?

Stephen Morrison
Center for Strategic and Int'l Studies
There is not much in the way of troop-contributing countries stepping forward and saying that they're willing to put significant battalions into Somalia under current circumstances.

RAY SUAREZ: Well, you've talked in a rather dubious way, professor, about the possibilities of the Ethiopians leaving soon. If an international force manages to pull itself together and enter the country, would that hasten the day that the Ethiopians leave?

ABDI SAMATAR: There are two issues, Jim, yes. If the A.U. and the Europeans and the U.N. are able to put a force that's credible enough, that's neutral enough, politically, that will, of course, change the equation and the Ethiopians will have to withdraw.

But, moreover, their transitional federal government has to do things. It can make demands and said, "We want your weapons tomorrow." But if it has not created a security system which will give a degree of comfort and confidence to the population, then that won't be possible.

What we have presently is militia forces of the president and the prime minister and Ethiopian troops, and nobody in his right mind or her right mind will trust that.

So the state of Somali's republic, if you like, or the transitional federal government, must get trust from the public, if this process has to move forward, in my opinion.

RAY SUAREZ: Well, Stephen Morrison, we heard earlier the European Union pulling itself out of the bargaining and saying, "We're not going to be in it. Whoever is going to be in it, it's not going to be us."

Will the Ethiopians leave, in your view? And can a multinational force be pulled together, as Professor Samatar suggests, one that the Somalis will welcome?

STEPHEN MORRISON: Your first question about the Ethiopians, they will scale back. They will not remove themselves entirely. They will stay in the back rooms.

They will do more than they have done 10 years ago when they came in and knocked back radical Islamist threats and withdrew fairly precipitously. They will not follow that pattern. They will have a long tail of this operation for some time.

On the question of whether there will be an international force introduced, it's going to be very difficult to mobilize quickly and deploy a force, whether it's under the auspices of the African Union or the regional body, IGAD.

There is not much in the way of troop-contributing countries stepping forward and saying that they're willing to put significant battalions into Somalia under current circumstances. And there's not a lot of financial and logistical backing from the West there, yet.

That doesn't rule out the possibility that you might see the contact group of nations that have mobilized around Somalia beginning to put more attention on that, as with putting more attention upon getting the transitional government to negotiate some pacts with the more moderate elements within the Courts to come in, as part of some reconfigured way of governing Somalia.

The price of government failure

Abdi Samatar
University of Minnesota
The claim was that there were three terrorists who bombed our embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, in 1998, hiding some place in Somalia under the [Islamic Courts Union]. And we're still waiting to see the evidence.

RAY SUAREZ: But doesn't that same international community want this government to succeed? What's at stake here if they don't succeed?

STEPHEN MORRISON: Well, what was at stake just a short while ago was the threat of a major humanitarian catastrophe and the consolidation of a Taliban-like government, which was seen in many quarters as quite a threat, was seen certainly that way in Ethiopia and is seen here in Washington in those terms.

That threat has been removed for the most part, for now. The Courts are in disarray. We're back, really, in a way, to where we were in the '90s when the chaos within Somalia was tolerated. It was accepted as something that the West and neighboring states could live with, so long as the threat of others coming in and taking advantage of that did not get to be too great.

RAY SUAREZ: Stephen Morrison used the phrase, professor, "Taliban-style." Members of the United States government have talked about al-Qaida links with the Islamist Courts Union. Is there much to that? Was that really a threat, in your view?

ABDI SAMATAR: Well, we haven't seen any evidence that our government has produced about this issue. The claim was that there were three terrorists who bombed our embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, in 1998, hiding some place in Somalia under the Courts. And we're still waiting to see the evidence, but none has been brought so far.

The second thing about this issue is that analysis that our government has done, it's almost like analogies, rather than analysis. That's to say, these people behave like this, and therefore they look like that. Rather than actually going on the ground, looking at the facts, and then seeing, making sense of those facts.

My sense is that it's a mixed bag, but I don't think they were anything like a Taliban or anywhere near that.

RAY SUAREZ: Do you agree with that?

STEPHEN MORRISON: I disagree to an extent with Abdi, in the sense that the three hard target terrorists who Washington and others allege have been harbored in Mogadishu, there is evidence that they have operated in that environment.

They may have departed. And there's plenty of evidence that they played a major role in engineering the bombing of the U.S. and Nairobi embassies in August of '98, which left 224 people dead and 4,000 Kenyans grievously injured, and which contributed also in running the operations in Mombassa in November of 2002, that killed 15 and almost killed hundreds.

And these are al-Qaida operations, and they operated through a network that stretched along the Swahili coast and had its center, in terms of its logistical hub, in Mogadishu, which has had the power to endure.

Now, whether that is now smashed and in disarray, I don't know. I do agree with Abdi: It's been hard to bring forward the graphic evidence of this.

RAY SUAREZ: Stephen Morrison, Professor Samatar, thank you both.

STEPHEN MORRISON: Thank you.