US Is Working to Restore Civilian Police in Somalia
Despite the presence of about 35,000 foreign troops and Somali patrols, the country remains a dangerous place, especially in Mogadishu
| MOGADISHU, SOMALIA
GUARDED by United States and Italian troops, a group of Somali civilian leaders from two rival clans drove together along this city's so-called no man's land, stopping to dismantle low barricades of stones, twisted metal, and rubble that have long divided this contested African capital.
The removal of the barriers and the growing cooperation between the rival factions are the latest examples of an emerging civilian leadership in Somalia that is tackling such issues as security, relief, and education.
About 300 Somalis signed up recently to be policemen here, though formation of a force could take months and will require foreign assistance. In the southern coastal city of Kismayo, 300 civilian Somali police are now on patrol, according to US officials here.
In Baidoa, Bardera, and a number of other towns, local Somalis have formed both security and relief committees, at the urging of Robert Oakley, chief US envoy to Somalia.
"At different rates of speed, in different parts of the country, this is happening," Mr. Oakley told the Monitor. "Women's groups, elders, will step to the fore," he predicts of areas where local security forces have yet to emerge.
In Baidoa, the governor, a member of a non-local clan whose military had occupied the town, suddenly found himself nearly powerless because of the local security committee, Oakley says.
"There's going to be a lot of changes in the future leadership," Oakley predicts, as a result of the emergence, or in many cases the re-emergence, of civilian authority.
John Marks, an American who recently completed an assignment here with the United Nations, calls Oakley's efforts to nudge civilian Somali leaders into action a bold move. But whether it is successful depends on security, he says. "Without security provided by the foreign troops, it's useless."
The need for security remains starkly clear. A US Marine was shot and wounded while on patrol early yesterday morning, the fourth US casualty since the troops arrived Dec. 9.
A tour of the no man's land underscored Mr. Marks's point. The Somali patrol had just turned a corner, passing some of the many shattered houses and shops, doorless, roofless, and pockmarked by bullets from heavy fighting. Suddenly, an excited bus driver hollered at them.
"It was a gang," the driver explained, telling how one of his passengers had been shot dead, and two others wounded, a few hours earlier. There was still blood on one of the seats of his old, windowless bus.
A block farther, other Somalis ran up to explain that a gang had just robbed another vehicle.
Such crimes illustrate a harsh fact about Somalia today: Despite the presence of about 35,000 foreign troops in the country, life, especially in parts of this capital city, is still dangerous.
"It's safer [since the arrival of the troops], but it's not safe," says US Air Force Lt. Col. Michael Cox, who is assigned to protect the shattered US Embassy here. "You have gunfire at night, but a lot less."
"We need Marines, because there are still gangs," says Abdul Mohamed Shirwa, minister of Information in Mogadishu for one of the two rival factional leaders, Gen. Mohamed Farah Aideed.
The barricade-clearing exercise may be largely symbolic unless it is backed up by regular patrols of foreign troops here. US officials could not confirm any plans for such patrols.
"Just throwing [barricades] away makes no sense," says M. Ali Dalmer, a former teaching instructor at the Somali Institute for Development and Administration.
Some members of the Somali security committee promised to mount civilian patrols, but no details are yet available.
Meanwhile, in many parts of the city, life is becoming much closer to normal.
In a section of Mogadishu disputed by rival sub-clans, Abdullah Noor Hussein sat calmly in a barber chair, getting a hair cut. "I come here many times," he says.
Some Somali educators are trying to build a new public school system. Many schools have been destroyed in the two years of civil war since rebels defeated longtime dictator Maj. Gen. Mohamed Siad Barre in January 1991 and subsequently fell into fighting between themselves.
Speaking right on the line that once divided this city, 18-year-old Abdul Noor Ahmede Ashur says: "I'm asking the world to help us. We need schools. Many children don't know anything. But they're ready to learn."