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GOV'T Seeks to Redeem Image Abroad


The new provisional government of Somalia has embarked on a campaign to revamp the international image of the war-ravaged country, even as it faces continuing challenges from warlord factions at home.

Top government officials travelling to neighboring countries paint a picture of a country struggling to get back on its feet after a decade of bloodshed and chaos.

At home, they face the stiff challenge of winning over the factions controlling various parts of the country and two self-styled "governments" in the north, which want to secede from Somalia. "We want to spread the word that Somalia is back to normal," said Prime Minister Ali Khalif Galer, who is on an official visit to Kenya.

"There are no organized groups challenging the new government. Those young fellows still causing trouble, are those who have no other source of income besides their guns," he told journalists on arriving in the Kenyan capital. Elsewhere, a different delegation, which has been visiting Ethiopia, is moving on to Yemen, Somalia's major trading partner, where they are to join Somali Pres.

Abiqassim Salad Hassan. It is hoped in the Yemeni talks that the new government will secure the support of major faction leaders Hussein Aideed and Osman Ali Ato, who are yet to recognize the new government.

Foreign Minister Harreh Aduba, who has been visiting the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa, had pledged to address the strained relations between the two countries, and pledged that his government would do all it can to oust elements bent on destabilizing Ethiopia from its territory.

"We covered areas of concern to both countries and virtually agreed on all points," he was quoted here as saying. Since the 1970s, Somalia's neighbors have felt threatened by the country's ambitions to carve out a "greater Somalia" from parts of northern Kenya, Djibouti and Ethiopia.

The 1970s Ogden War, in which Somali troops invaded southeastern Ethiopia, strengthened Kenyan-Ethiopian relations, even though the two countries had been in different ideological camps. Its lack of a stable central government posed an even bigger security threat in the Horn of Africa.

The state of Somalia collapsed in 1991 after the overthrow of Pres. Siad Barre, splintering the country into warlord controlled fiefdoms. The south has been a scene of chaos and insecurity since, as rival factions fight for control over key economic sectors.

The establishment of the new government at an inter-clan meeting in Djibouti came as a relief to Somalia's neighbors, affected by its instability. Kenya, which has been dealing with an influx of illegal small arms into its territory via Somalia, has already recognized the new government.

Last week, the Kenyan capital was a hive of activity as Somali delegates met with United Nations experts, donors and aid agencies to discuss the demobilization of thousands of militiamen and their re-integration into Somali society.

The workshop, "Demobilization and Re-Integration Programs in Somalia," presented successful case studies of demobilization from other African countries like Mozambique, Zimbabwe, South Africa and Angola. "It is the first time we, as the international community, have sat down to listen to the concrete experiences of the people themselves, to my knowledge," said Jeremy Brickhill, the organizer of the workshop on behalf of the United Nations and the Somali Aid Coordination Body (SABC).

Several groups of militia operate in Somalia, with at least five distinct groups identified, including those who work for the business community, Islamic courts, faction leaders, sub-clans and free-lance militias, who often engage in criminal activities like robbery, kidnapping and setting up illegal roadblocks.

"These are the men we need to reach. If they can be brought back into their communities, in productive ways, Somalia will be a safer, more prosperous place," Brickhill says.

The task, as Rudolf Kent, U.N. resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Somalia suggests, will not be an easy one.

"We now have an important opportunity to support peace and reconciliation in Somalia, but a difficult task lies ahead. Now is the time for Somalia's international friends to support Somalis' struggle for peace in a real and tangible way," he said here.

It is also hoped the regional Inter-Governmental Authority on Drought (IGAD), which has been concerned with peace negotiations in the region, will declare its support for the new Somali government in a meeting later this week in Khartoum, Sudan.


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