Somolia's Leaders Look For Ways to Keep Peace
After ouster of dictator, rival rebel groups seek to avoid new fighting
MOGADISHU, SOMALIA — SITTING on the turret of a burned-out government tank in the middle of a main street here, rebel Abukar Ali Mohammed said: ``I shot a lot of people - to get democracy and make Somalia free from the dictatorship of Mohamed Siad Barre.'' Young Abukar and his fellow rebels have freed Somalia from its dictator. Mr. Barre, who ruled the country for 21 years, fled the capital Jan. 27 in a tank convoy, after four weeks of intense fighting.
The challenge facing the victors is to keep the peace and forge a democracy, instead of allowing Somalia to slip into a new round of fighting - this time between rebel groups.
Two of Somalia's three main rebel groups - and a splinter group within the United Somali Congress (USC) - are signaling objections to the formation of the interim government and appointment of the interim president Jan. 29 by the USC. It is not yet clear if the objecting groups will show up for a national political conference called by the USC for Feb. 28 to form a transitional government leading to multiparty elections.
But even with the political outlook unclear, relative calm has returned to this partly shattered capital.
Some buses have begun running again, despite severe fuel shortages. Open markets are selling milk, tea, and a few other items. Thousands who fled the city are returning, cleaning up their looted homes and shops. Some shops have already reopened. Most of the bodies have been removed from the streets.
Artillery or machine-gun fire left many buildings damaged as well as destroying electrical and water supplies, and telephone and telex links to the outside world.
Almost every vehicle and pedestrian group in Mogadishu has someone in it carrying guns. Gunfire echoes through the city day and night, but most of it is aimed skyward, as combatants and others continue to celebrate their victory.
Some armed Somalis are stealing from other looters, resulting in some gunshot wounds. Food, medicines, and diesel fuel to run water pumps are in desperate shortage. Hotel owner Ali Mahdi Mohamed, the USC-named caretaker president, has appealed to foreign relief workers to return to Somalia and help his country prevent starvation. He has pledged to guarantee the safety of returning relief and diplomatic officials.
Our group of five reporters was warmly greeted everywhere we went, with people waving and shouting welcomes.
On Sunday, the USC swore in a new Cabinet. One by one, as guards with machine guns stood outside the hall, the new ministers, representing the major ethnic or clan groups in Somalia, placed their hands on Korans and took the oath of office.
The day before, relaxed and barefoot in his brother-in-law's modest but nicely carpeted living room, Mr. Mohamed said his new government's main aim is to ``fill a gap until a broad-based government with the consultation of the opposition forces is made.''
``Somalis can be united, provided they get the right government, with the right leadership,'' he said.
But the Somali National Movement (SNM), the northern rebel group, objects to the caretaker government. ``For one part of the country to assume they have the right to form a national government is ridiculous,'' says Ibrahim Megag Samater, chairman of the SNM's central committee.
Asked if there would now be fighting between the rebel groups, he said: ``I don't think they will fight each other. We Somalis have a way of coming around, of talking, consulting with elders, compromising.'' He predicted agreement could be forged between the rebel groups, but added: ``It may not be easy.''
The southern-based Somali Patriotic Movement, is ``on the verge of a showdown'' with the USC, says Mohamood Nuur, a member of Manifesto, a civilian group that also opposed Barre.
Another Somali source, now working with Mohamed, said that if the Hewiya clan (which forms the backbone of the USC) ``don't get the presidency [in the planned elections], they will continue to fight.''
University of Chicago political scientist David Laitin, says ``Things look more hopeful than they might have, given the terrible fighting that's been taking place.''
He noted that the new interim Cabinet includes several internationally prominent Somalis, including the prime minister and a former under-secretary-general of the United Nations, Ar-Rahim Abbi Farah, who can help cool tempers among rival leaders to try to avoid another civil war.
The key will be the position of the SNM as it ``bargains for crucial roles in the new government,'' says Mr. Laitin, author with Mr. Samatar of ``Somalia: Nation in Search of a State.''
As he was waiting for the Cabinet to be sworn in Sunday, Mohamed Abshir Mussa, Somalia's interim deputy prime minister, referred to the need for unity at this time.
``This is a moment when all Somalis should rise above local interests to national interest - after a long dictatorship,'' he said.