Somali leader hopes for American understanding, favor

U.S. aid, not attacks, needed, president says

November 04, 2001|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

NAIROBI, Kenya - The president of Somalia's transitional government says he understands why his country is getting the cold shoulder from the United States. His anarchic homeland is still overrun with well-armed warlords, just as it was when 18 U.S. soldiers perished on the streets of Mogadishu, the capital, eight years ago.

But Abdiqassim Salad Hassan, who is here for talks organized by the Kenyan government that aim to restore peace and unify his fractured country, is eager for America to return to the Somali capital. He hopes that the Sept. 11 attacks will serve to unite Somalia and the United States and not attract U.S. bombs aimed at rooting out suspected links between his country and Osama bin Laden.

"We in Somalia, we know what terrorism is," Abdiqassim said in an interview Friday. "We have been in terror for 10 years. We have destroyed our towns. We have killed each other."

Even though he is nominally the country's president, Abdiqassim controls only pockets of the Somali capital, Mogadishu, and some surrounding areas as rival warlords continue to divide up the country. His administration has been in particular disarray since the assembly last weekend voted out the prime minister, forcing the president to put together a new government.

Although few of the major warlords joined Abdiqassim in the talks here, the president said he is eager to incorporate more rivals in his administration. Diplomats do not expect the talks to produce any breakthroughs.

Abdiqassim said he is eager for the United States to play a more active role in future talks aimed at bringing stability to a country that has spent the past decade in chaos.

"If Somalia becomes a black hole, it will attract all sorts of international terrorists," Abdiqassim said. "If there is no good government that can control the whole country, then, of course, you are giving ground to not only terrorists but drug dealers and arms smugglers."

But he added quickly that Somalia had not reached that point yet. "There is no need for American troops, nor planes, nor tanks, to come," he said.

Abdiqassim is one of many leaders of Africa's Muslim states who have lent their support to the United States' anti-terrorism campaign in the hope that Washington will remember such allegiances when the bombing of Afghanistan is done.

The Somalis have been anxious since Bush included Al Itihad al Islamiya, a radical Islamic group with ties to Somalia, in the list of terrorist groups with possible financial links to bin Laden's network.

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