- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 24, 2001

The new transitional government of Somalia, surrounded by warlords in the capital of Mogadishu and in the south and by two quasi-independent states on its northern territory, has begun to "edge toward putting the country back together" after a decade of anarchy, according to Prime Minister Ali Khalif Galaydh.
"We have begun the work of reconstruction," Mr. Galaydh said in an interview with The Washington Times in a Northern Virginia hotel late last week.
The prime minister expressed hope that "for the sake of security on the Horn of Africa, the international community will assist the nascent government in ending the chaos." That was precisely the purpose of his Washington trip.
But the challenges are daunting.
While stability on the Horn of Africa is an obvious U.S. national interest because of the nearby Red Sea shipping lanes, the 1993 disaster that befell the U.S. mission to provide security for private food-relief operations has created a deep reluctance to re-engage.
In a star-crossed U.S. attempt to wipe out the high command of a clan leader, a U.S. Army Ranger unit was ambushed, a Black Hawk helicopter was downed, and 18 U.S. soldiers were killed. Television cameras caught the searing moment when a U.S. soldier was shown dragged through the streets of Mogadishu by enraged Somalis. The Clinton administration quickly pulled out of the country.
Since then, U.S. reluctance to intervene in several African crises, including the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, the carnage in Sierra Leone and the war in Congo, have been attributed to the negative Somali experience.
For the past 10 years, following the ouster of dictator Mohammed Siad Barre, rival clan leaders and their militia armies carved up Somalia into a mosaic of fiefdoms.
The new government of President Abdulkassim Salat Hassan was proclaimed Aug. 5 by the country's sundry clans at a national reconciliation conference in the adjacent tiny state of Djibouti.
The government moved on Oct. 20 into a few hotels in Mogadishu and is described by a U.N. official as lacking virtually everything, including paper clips.
The capital long had been the playpen of two clans, the Aidids, led by Mohammed Farah and his son Hussein, and Ali Mahdi Mohamed.
The warlords have rejected Mr. Salat's bid for unity. To the north, the quasi-independent territories of Somaliland and Puntland, led by Mohamed Ibrahim Egal and Col. Abdullahi Yussuf respectively, continue to go their own way.
Then there is the problem of a country saturated with firearms, which it received first from the Soviet Union, then from the United States when its switched Cold War allegiances.
On top of this, Somalia has to bear the burden of an Ethiopian-armed intervention launched, according to Addis Ababa, to eliminate cross-border raids by Ethiopian rebels operating from havens in Somalia.
"We see the problem as one of institutional memories by the Ethiopian generals in the south," said Mr. Galaydh.
"Since the Ogaden war of the 1970s, Ethiopian politicians and generals have seen Somalia as an arena for quick victories and the enhancement of their careers."
Just in the past few days, Ethiopian soldiers opened fire on demonstrators in an occupied Somali border town, Bulo Hawo in the Gedo region of southwest Somalia, killing five persons and wounding 17, according to a Somali government minister quoted by a news agency.
Despite the obstacles, the 15-member U.N. Security Council asked Secretary-General Kofi Annan last week to submit a proposal for a peace-building mission for Somalia.
Mr. Annan's special representative for Somalia, David Stephen, was reported saying that any U.N. mission would be minimal.


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