The long, hard return to Mogadishu

Alexandra Zavis, Associated Press
February 12, 2005 SOMA0212


MOGADISHU, SOMALIA -- After more than a decade of anarchy, thousands of Somalis cheered, clapped and waved flowers to welcome lawmakers who flew in from exile in neighboring Kenya over the weekend to determine whether it was safe to return home.

By the end of the week, shots were fired at the delegation and a foreign journalist was slain, raising doubts about the government's ability to reclaim Mogadishu from gunmen.

Under international pressure, government officials say they will start returning Feb. 21. But such promises have been made -- and broken -- before.

Somalia has had no effective central authority since faction leaders united to oust dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991.

They then turned on each other, carving the nation of 7 million into a patchwork of clan-based fiefdoms and dueling warlords.

The conflict has killed more than 500,000 people and driven more than 750,000 from their homes.

Transitional government

A transitional government was formed last month in Kenya after protracted negotiations among warlords, clan elders and other leaders. It has no budget, civil service or buildings, and operates from Kenya because of safety concerns at home.

There have been more than a dozen attempts to restore order in Somalia, but most only produced more fighting.

The speaker of the Somali parliament, Shariif Hassan Sheikh Aden addresses students at the Ahmed Gurey school,on Feb. 9, 2005 in Mogadishu, Somalia. After more than a decade of anarchy, thousands of Somalis cheered, clapped and waved flowers to welcome lawmakers who flew in from exile in neighboring Kenya to determine whether it was safe to return home. But before the week was out, shots were fired at the delegation and a foreign journalist was slain, raising doubts about the government's ability to reclaim Mogadishu from gunmen

This time, all the major clans and warlords are included in a 275-member Parliament and 42-member Cabinet.

The process also has the support of key neighboring countries, including Ethiopia and Djibouti, whose support of selected factions has helped fuel the conflict.

The government's success will depend on whether members can overcome years of bloodletting to disarm their private armies, form a new national army and police force, and start governing.

The level of trust is low, acknowledged warlord-turned-Deputy Prime Minister Hussein Muhammad Aidid in the Hilton Hotel in Nairobi, Kenya.

The son of Muhammad Farah Aidid, whose showdown with U.S. forces in 1993 resulted in the deaths of 18 U.S. troops, believes reconciliation can be achieved through governing together.

President Abdullahi Yusuf, a northerner likely concerned about his safety in the southern city of Mogadishu, has appealed for 20,000 foreign peacekeepers.

Some warlords viewed the request as an attempt by rival clans and their foreign allies to undercut their power.

Islamic militants, who have also sought to establish influence in the absence of central authority, threatened to attack any foreign forces that deploy.

However, regional diplomats question whether Somali fighters will turn in their weapons to each other.

The African Union supports an international force, but officials privately insist it should be limited in size and scope and exclude troops from front-line states.

The shooting of BBC reporter Kate Peyton outside a Mogadishu hotel Wednesday underscored the threat.

While it remains unclear who was responsible, many here saw the killing as a message that this government has no real control.

Even if it can establish authority, the government still has no budget with which to set up offices, equip and train security forces, and start work.

A gunman carries a flower in his gun barrel, on Feb. 5, 2005 in Mogadishu, Somalia. After more than a decade of anarchy, thousands of Somalis cheered, clapped and waved flowers to welcome lawmakers who flew in from exile in neighboring Kenya to determine whether it was safe to return home. But before the week was out, shots were fired at the delegation and a foreign journalist was slain, raising doubts about the government's ability to reclaim Mogadishu from gunmen

Officials have asked for $77.3 million -- but donors want to see evidence the government can function before committing funds.

A major potential source of revenue is Mogadishu's now closed sea port.

The warlord who controls it is part of the government and has agreed to turn over the port, provided his forces are compensated.

AT A GLANCE

• Somalia has had no effective central authority since faction leaders united to oust dictator Muhammad Siad Barre in 1991. They then turned on each other, carving the nation into a patchwork of clan-based fiefdoms.

• The conflict has killed more than 500,000 people and driven more than 750,000 from their homes.

• A transitional government was formed last month. It operates from Kenya because of safety concerns at home.