Somali Rebels Seek Peace After Ousting Ruler

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

NOW that the dictator is gone and a new president has been appointed, can the conquerors manage to establish peace and democracy? That's the question facing the East African nation of Somalia, where rebels this week finally forced 21-year dictator Mohamed Siad Barre from power.

The United Somali Congress (USC), the main rebel group, named Ali Mahdi Mohamed as Somalia's president yesterday.

Mr. Mohamed, a wealthy businessman who helped finance the USC's military operation, was a member of the parliament before Mr. Barre seized power in 1969, USC sources in Nairobi said.

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``They [the USC] had to get something in place quickly,'' said Ibrahim Megag Samater, a top leader of the rebel Somali National Movement.

But he cautioned that many of Barre's troops are still ``armed to the teeth,'' and trying to hold out in the north and other parts of the country, and that it will take months to defeat them. Then, all the rebel groups will come together to form a transition government, Mr. Samater said.

For more than two decades, Barre ruled with divide-and-conquer tactics, playing one group of Somalis off against another. Now half a dozen opposition groups face the challenge of uniting themselves - and bringing the Somali people together again.

The USC rebels claimed power this week after four weeks of intense fighting in Mogadishu, the capital.

It was a costly battle: Hundreds of people, mostly civilians, were killed, many of them by artillery fire from the besieged presidential compound that fell on neighborhoods under USC control. Tens of thousands of people fled the city, some to neighboring Ethiopia and Kenya, others to surrounding towns and villages.

Interviews this week with Somalis here representing several opposition groups, and with others in Somalia a few weeks ago, indicate that while rebel leaders were united in ousting Barre, there is danger of the war continuing unless a power-sharing plan among them can be worked out.

``Somalis were united in opposition to Siad Barre,'' said Ali Mohamed Hirabe, a member of the Central Committee of the USC, in a Jan. 29 interview here.

Now, he says, the USC wants to bring all opposition groups together ``to form a broad-based democratic government, a provisional government, that will prepare general elections based on principles of multiparty democracy.''

Representatives from two other opposition groups agreed with the USC aim and said their groups would not accept any attempt to set up a military government.

``We certainly [won't] accept any military government, whatever type it is,'' said Hassan Ali Mireh, a representative here of the Somali Salvation Democratic Front.``Our experience over the last 21 years is very tragic, and our country has been totally destroyed as a result of military mismanagement.''

But he warned, neither civilian rule nor unity among opposition groups is a sure thing. ``Politics being what they are - some people might have ambitions. The military might want to continue ruling the country. Other opposition groups, including our own, might want to run the country alone. But that will lead only to civil war, a continuation of the destruction.''

At this writing, Barre was, believed to be in Kenya enroute to asylum, probably in Italy. Somalia is a former Italian colony.

The whereabouts of his army was not clear, and earlier this week, some of his generals were claiming to still hold power. Some Somali sources here discount the claims.

Two Western businessmen here with years of experience working in Somalia were divided. One said, ``Now the power struggle begins.'' The other said, ``Maybe not.'' Somalis have seen too much violence already, he said.

Another opponent to the Barre regime, Somali-born businessman Abdullahi Daib, cautioned here this week that ``if one rebel group claims they are taking power, that's going to be a problem. Each person wants the cake - that's what I'm worried about.''

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