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End nears for Somalia's decade-long civil war

As a new peace pact takes hold, Somalis ready to choose new leaders.

By David GoughSpecial to The Christian Science Monitor / August 3, 2000



MOGADISHU, SOMALIA

Fadumo Abdukadir can barely remember life in Somalia before civil war began 10 years ago. She struggles to recall the faces of family members she lost. She's forgotten what it means to live peacefully, with a functioning state that practices the rule of law.

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But Ms. Abdukadir remembers all too clearly what she calls "this stupid war." The war that killed hundreds of thousands, drove millions from their homes, and left Somalia suffering, without government and forgotten by the outside world.

"Take a look around you," she says, pointing to the refugee camp that she and her eight children call home. "We have no food, no medicine, no help, and no hope. What we need is a government."

But now, hope is indeed growing that the chaos might soon come to an end. For the past three months, more than 2,000 Somalis have been meeting in the suffocating desert heat of neighboring Djibouti, trying to thrash out a deal that will put an end to the most miserable decade of Somalia's long history.

In a rare spirit of unity and compromise, delegates agreed on a draft charter last month that allows for the establishment of a new 225-member Transitional National Assembly. Once members of the TNA have been elected, a prime minister and president will be elected, and the long struggle toward normality will begin.

As soon as the new charter was read aloud, the conference crowd erupted into jubilant cheers, belting out excited strains of the national anthem. But joyful optimism alone can't make an agreement stick.

All 12 previous attempts at putting back together the pieces of Somalia have failed, and it will take more than the optimism of the Somali people to make No. 13 a success.

Ask anyone in the capital of Mogadishu if they support the process, and the answer will be a resounding "yes," but a host of opposing power groups have grown out of Somalia's decade-old political void. And although they say they want government, they have very divergent ideas of what sort of government it should be.

Businessmen want a laissez-faire government that will stimulate the economy. Religious leaders seek an Islamic government and the imposition of Islamic law (sharia). Refugees just want water, food, and basic services.

When Marxist dictator Mohamed Siad Barre fled the country in 1991, Somalia fell into the hands of warring clan-based militias - particularly by Mohamed Farah Aidid, who had previously been in Ethiopia.

The United Nations, backed by the military might of the United States, tried to restore order and oust Mr. Aidid, but they failed and withdrew in 1995.

Sheikh Mokhtar Haji Hamud, the secretary of the Council of Islamic Courts is - in contrast to the popular imagery of Islamic fundamentalism - a timid, soft- spoken man.

Last year he and other religious leaders, with the backing of the business community, formed their own militias and took on the warlords. They closed down checkpoints across the city, arresting and imprisoning militiamen as they passed.

"We had to do something," he says. "People need order and discipline in their lives."