Somalia to attack al-Qaeda 'soon'
United Nations, New York - Somalia's new prime minister says 8000 government troops will start waging attacks on Islamist insurgents and al-Qaeda terrorists “very, very soon”.
Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, a Somali-American educator, also said increased US and international support for his government was essential to end Somalia's lawlessness and prevent terrorists from continuing to use the country as a safe haven.
He also warned that nearly 2.5 million Somalis in both Islamist and government-controlled areas were on the verge of starvation and said some had already died. He urged immediate global help to prevent even more deaths than in the 1992 famine when 500 000 people died, saying the United Nations and other donors weren't doing enough.
The United Nations said early in December that despite fragile improvement in 2010 because of two good rainy seasons, Somalia still had two million people in crisis, including nearly 1.5 million displaced people. It said floods, drought and armed conflict disrupted access to health care, food, clean water and education but nearly two million people in Somalia received food assistance during 2010.
Somalia has not had an effective government since 1991 when warlords overthrew longtime dictator Mohamed Siad Barre and then turned on each other, plunging the country into chaos and anarchy. The weak UN and US-backed transitional government, established in 2004, and a poorly resourced African Union peacekeeping force control only a small slice of Mogadishu and haven't been able to push past the firing lines of Islamist insurgents who are set up only a few blocks from the presidential palace.
Since his 18-member Cabinet of Somali technocrats who had been living abroad was approved late in November, Mohamed said he had spoken on radio to let people know his government was honest and professional and would be transparent and accountable - unlike its predecessors. He also pledged to fight corruption and promote national reconciliation.
“It looks like now we are winning the propaganda war,” the prime minister said. “People are believing that we're really serious and came back home to effect change.”
Mohamed pointed to a recent poll in Mogadishu showing 80 percent support for the government and only seven percent for opposition groups, and the defection of about 40 youths from the Islamist group al-Shabab, Somalia's most dangerous, “without firing any bullet”.
“Some people are saying as soon as we start waging some attack we may see a lot of defectors,” he said. “Definitely, it will happen very, very soon.”
In Decemberr al-Shabab and the second major Islamist group, Hizbul Islam, ended a long feud and merged.
Mohamed said his government's policy remained the same to these “enemies of peace”.
The government would prefer dialogue and reconciliation and has received “a lot of phone calls” from middle-ranking members of both groups, he said, but if fighting continued it would use force.
Mohamed said there had been progress in reorganiding Somali troops who were recently paid. The 8000-strong force would include about 1000 troops who would be returning from training in Uganda soon, he said.
“For the last couple of days, their morale is high, and I hope they effectively face their enemy very, very soon,” Mohamed said.
The prime minister stressed, however, that without financial support, his government couldn't function.
While the international community donated “a lot of support” to Somalia, he said, the funds went through the United Nations and the government only has the revenue from the port and the airport, less than $1 million (R6.9 million) a month.
“We appreciate all their contributions but we are appealing to the international community - US, European Union, Arab League - to step up to the plate to do more,” Mohamed said.
He said the international terrorists were well financed and had “a great network” that sent foreign fighters to Somalia.
“In order to face them effectively, you have to have the same resources they have,” Mohamed said.
“The more Somalia remains the way she is, definitely that's where international terrorism wants to be,” he warned.
Mohamed urged the United States to give Somalia the same financial, economic, military and diplomatic support that it gave to Afghanistan, saying both countries faced the same issues - international terrorism and weak or no central government.
If NATO-led forces in Afghanistan defeated al-Qaeda, he warned, “they're going to go to Somalia, because that's where they can find a place to reorganise, because of lack of central government, effective government.”
The mandate of the transitional government will run out in August.
What happened after that, Mohamed said, “is a million dollar question,” adding that the government was still brainstorming about different options. - Sapa-AP