Rebel Clashes Forestall Peace In Newly Liberated Somalia

TWO months ago, rebels in the East African coastal nation of Somalia won a civil war against a dictator. But they still haven't achieved peace.

There have been violent confrontations since President Mohamed Siad Barre fled the country in late January. But Western diplomats are not sure if the clashes are between rival clan-based rebel groups or acts of individual aggression.

Some Somali refugees here claim the attacks are the first sign of a new civil war - this time between rebel groups jockeying for position in the post-Barre era.

``People are hungry for power,'' says a Somali, who asked not to be named.

Whoever is behind the clashes, their effect is devastating. According to Reuters, up to 600,000 refugees from the Darod clan have fled to the southern coastal town of Kismayo. Last week some 200 battle injuries were reported by the local hospital. Meanwhile, Western relief officials say, there is an urgent need for emergency food, water, and shelter. So far, most of the limited supplies reaching Somalia have gone to the capital, Mogadishu, says one relief official here.

In Mogadishu, there have been ``repeated reports of Hawiye [the dominant clan in the capital] looting homes and unconfirmed reports of summary executions of Darod [by Hawiye],'' says a Western diplomat.

Since Mr. Barre's defeat on Jan. 26, thousands of Somalis have fled the country. And as killings continue, traditional mistrust between clans deepens, making it difficult to form a unified government.

A former Somali official here says unity will not come until law and order is reestablished in Mogadishu. But, he adds, controlling some of the teenage rebels, who still have automatic weapons from the war, is not going to be easy.

Of the three main rebel groups, it is the United Somali Congress, comprised mostly of the Hawiye clan, that controls much of central Somalia, including the capital. The USC ousted Barre and named Ali Mahdi Mohammed interim president.

The Somali National Movement, dominated by the Issak clan, controls much of the north. SNM leaders resent the USC's installing an interim president.

The Somali Patriotic Front, in the south, also resents the USC. Recently the SPM has been reported to be cooperating with the Somali Democratic Salvation Front (SDSF), a rebel group with ties in the north and south.

USC claims to represent Somalia are similar to the claims of the former dictator, who is from a minority clan, says Yussef Mohammed Ismail, an SDSF official.

President Mahdi has twice called on rebel groups to join a unity government leading to free elections. He has promised to step aside when such a government is formed.

But some Somalis in Mogadishu say that if the USC doesn't capture the presidency in whatever subsequent government is formed, it will fight.

Now, according to Somali refugees here, two groups of Somali elders, one from the USC's Hawiye clan, the other from the SPM/SDSF's Darod clan, are meeting with their fellow clansmen to win support for a meeting of all rebel groups at a neutral location, outside Somalia.

Before the meeting, the USC interim government would be asked to resign, putting all rebel groups on an equal footing.

``National unity is a possibility,'' says one Darod clan member here. It will come, he says, through mediation efforts by various clan elders. He stresses that Somalia, unlike other African nations, has one language (Somali), one religion (Islam), and one tribe (Somali, although divided into rival clans).

The former Somali official here suggests a Western, African, or Arab force should impose a cease-fire and broker creation of a unity government.

Another Somali here scoffed at this idea, saying they prefer to handle things themselves.

In Nairobi, Kenyan Foreign Minister Wilson Ndolo Ayah Wednesday dismissed charges that Kenya was arming opposition factions who continue to fight Somali government forces.

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