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Somali Militiamen Face Choice of Peace or More War

A dozen battle wagons rolled through the Somali capital this weekend to the national stadium, young militiamen spilling from them with assault rifles in hand.

In this war-scarred capital, such a convoy might normally signal yet another battle in a decade of clan-based fighting and anarchy.

But these militiamen convoyed in hope of restoring peace and stability to their country.

They want jobs in a new Somalia police force. With a new president and parliament named last month, many Somalis believe they will soon have a central government for the first time in almost a decade.

It would be the first since dictator Mohamed Siad Barre was overthrown in early 1991 and rival clans carved the nation into fiefdoms.

Business leaders have offered Mogadishu's militiamen the chance to join a new force that would initially provide security for the new government. But the aim is then to train those guards for police duties.

Standing in small groups outside Mogadishu's stadium this weekend, the first recruits said they were joining up because they wanted a decent job and a steady salary, as well as peace for the country.

"This is where the future lies. We want to work for the new government," said Sharif Mohamed Ahmed, a skinny 25-year-old who joined one of the city's militias in 1996.

"We are expecting the government to employ us and give us some education so we can have a better future," he said, an AK-47 assault rifle slung over his right shoulder and surrounded by a dozen militiamen.

THE KEY TO PEACE

Others stood around heavy anti-aircraft guns mounted on their "technicals" -- the local name for the battle wagons -- or sat in the shade of the stadium, which has a huge shellhole in its front facade.

Around 300 militiamen showed up here and at another "demobilisation camp" on the northern side of the city on Saturday, and more were expected on Sunday. It was a steady start to the demobilisation campaign.

But all the first recruits had previously worked for private businesses that back the government, so their participation came as no surprise.

The real test will come this week when businessmen hope that many militiamen working for the clan faction leaders, or warlords, will simply desert their bosses, bringing their "technicals" with them.

Four of Mogadishu's five warlords have vowed to prevent President Abdiqassim Salad Hassan from taking office and warn of a new round of heavy fighting for control of the city.

Abdiqassim Salad was elected by a meeting of Somali clan and community leaders in neighbouring Djibouti last month.

If enough militiamen change sides, the warlords may find themselves too weak to resist the new government. If they do not, the warlords' resolve could be strengthened.

"The crucial factor is the clan militiamen," said General Mohamed Nor Galal, who served in the Somali army under Siad Barre and now leads the demobilisation plan.

WARLORDS WARN OF NEW FIGHTING

Local businessmen have put up $750,000 to finance the new police force for its first three months, hoping that the government will by then be firmly established. But the warlords warn it may be a very bad investment.

"They'll be throwing their money away," said Muse Sudi Yalahow, claiming that the new force will be no match for his militia or those of the other clan leaders.

"All they can manage is a little conflict, and they will lose. Many people will be killed," he told Reuters.

The other anti-government warlords are all outside Somalia at the moment, either trying to drum up support from foreign allies or planning their next moves.

Most residents of the capital back the new government -- and Abdiqassim Salad's supporters hope the warlords are beating the drums of war simply as a negotiating ploy before agreeing to allow him to take office.

But Yalahow rejected the idea of any deal."We will not accept him. There is no point in talking to him," he said.

Over 100,000 people celebrated at Mogadishu stadium when Abdiqassim Salad briefly visited the city after being elected by the parliament-in-exile late last month. .

 


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