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Somali Goverment Plans to Give Militiamen Food and Cash for Guns

 

Somalia's new government will offer thousands of militiamen food, vocational training and cash in exchange for their guns, a government official said Tuesday.

During the fighting between rival clansmen and militias over the last decade, Somalia was flooded with more than 1 million small arms like assault rifles and rocket-propelled grenades.

Hussein Ali Ahmed, a member of a Somali government committee set up to organize the demobilization program, said the goal is convince at least 75,000 gunmen to hand in their guns over the next three years. In exchange for the guns, militiamen would enroll in camps where they would be given a basic education, vocational training and a salary of $60 per month.

The government would also buy back guns from the militiamen, Ahmed said. Details and funding have yet to be worked out, he said. "The demobilization of militia is the key to all activities, to recreate the socio-economic structure which has collapsed during the civil strife," Ahmed said.

"This new initiative will create a good environment through which we can rebuild the collapsed infrastructure." Somalia has been synonymous with chaos and violence since dictator Mohamed Siad Barre was ousted in January 1991 by rival opposition leaders, who then turned on each other. In August, a national reconciliation conference in neighboring Djibouti elected President Abdiqasim Salad Hassan and a 245-member national assembly to rule the country for a three-year transitional period.

Somalia had no central government for 10 years, and the country of 7 million remains divided into fiefdoms defended by clan-based militias. Hassan and his legislators, who returned to the Somali capital, Mogadishu, in October, now face the daunting task of establishing order by disarming thousands of militiamen, some loyal to faction leaders and others no more than bandits. Ahmed said the key was providing the gunmen with incentives to give up their arms.

"It is compulsory to create other opportunities for the militia who together with their families are dependent on what they earn from the gun," he said. "We need to raise the awareness of the militia and inform them they can get a better and more secure life.

" If the international community genuinely wants to support the new government, Ahmed said, it has to supply technical and financial assistance for the programs. "Failure to support the government at this crucial stage may well have very serious consequences," he said.

The U.N. Development Program estimates there are 20,000 gunmen in the capital alone, of which 35 percent are loyal to businessmen, 35 percent are employed by faction leaders, 16 percent work for Islamic courts and 14 percent are freelancers.

In a recent survey of 500 gunmen loyal to faction leaders, UNDP found 493 would be willing to give up their arms if a suitable alternative could be found. Ahmed said the demobilization process would be the government's priority for 2001.

He said the government would also continue to try to convince wary faction leaders to support the peace process.

 





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