Aideed's Son Is X-Factor In Somalia's Equation


Somali warlord Mohamed Farah Aideed has died, but the factional fighting that has plunged his country into civil war, famine, and virtual anarchy is unlikely to end soon, political analysts say.

Over the weekend, Mr. Aideed's supporters named his son, Hussein Aideed, as his successor. The move is aimed at quickly filling the power vacuum and sending a strong signal to rival clans that pro-Aideed militias will not back down, these analysts say.

Whether Hussein Aideed will be as politically ambitious and warlike as his father remains to be seen. Ironically, the younger Aideed grew up in the United States and is a former US Marine who landed in Somalia in 1992 with the US intervention force.

Aideed's chief rival, warlord Ali Mahdi Mohamed, placed his militias on alert in northern Mogadishu. He said that the Aideed faction had lost an opportunity for peace by naming a new president for its self-proclaimed government. Analysts say this did not augur well for an early resolution to the chaos in the troubled Horn of Africa country.

"I think it's too early to hang up the peace flags," says Richard Cornwell, a political analyst with the Pretoria-based Africa Institute of South Africa.

"It looks like the rapid election [of the son] is being seen as a backward step by other groups. There had been some hopes that Aideed's death could be a breakthrough for peace, but now it doesn't look that way."

Aides said Aideed died Thursday during a surgical operation after he was shot during clan fighting.

The warlord became one of the most powerful forces in Somalia after the overthrow of President Mohamed Siad Barre in January 1991. Since then, Somalia has been without a true government and rival factions have been fighting for control.

Aideed won special notoriety for his militiamen's defeat of a United Nations peacekeeping force in 1993, whose final withdrawal was carried out in 1995.

The Aideed clan says its president and government, based in southern Mogadishu, the capital, are the legitimate power in Somalia. But this is rejected by Mr. Ali Mahdi, Aideed's chief rival and the leader of a clan alliance based in the city's north.

Ali Mahdi has called for a peace conference between all Somali factions to end the six-year civil war. But Aideed's ministers have said they would not attend unless they were recognized as the government. Their self-proclaimed government, set up after the elder Aideed was elected president by his supporters in June last year, has received no international recognition except from Sudan and Libya.

Hussein Aideed is a largely unknown quantity. His background contradicts a movement that prides itself on anticolonialism.

Political analysts say some subclansmen had reservations about the appointment of Hussein because of his youth and his previous ties with the US. Hussein, a former US military reservist, lived in the US from the age of about 14 until he returned to Somalia in late 1992 as a US Marine and part of "Operation Restore Hope" that aimed to help end famine and militia looting of food.

He acted as a liaison between US forces and his father. He left Somalia in 1993 before the UN ordered a manhunt for his father and Aideed's forces killed and humiliated US troops. He returned to Somalia from Los Angeles in August last year to marry.

Hussein, who is Aideed's third-eldest son, had been chief of security in the southwestern town of Baidoa after his father's militia seized it in September last year.

Political analysts say Hussein may only be a figurehead for the militia. There was no guarantee he would have his father's clout or savvy within the faction.

They also question whether Hussein is of the same thinking as his clansmen, having spent a long time in the US, and whether this would weaken his influence or create conflicts with supporters.

It is possible that after some initial tough statements Hussein might assume a more conciliatory stance and show more openness to the West, the analysts say.

In a sign of rising tensions in Mogadishu, Aideed's soldiers killed two fighters of Ali Mahdi's faction late Sunday near the line dividing the Somali capital, the Associated Press reported.

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