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Some in Somalia Fear Ex-Warlord Is Back

By ELIZABETH A. KENNEDY
The Associated Press
Sunday, December 31, 2006; 7:47 PM

MOGADISHU, Somalia -- For more than 10 years, Mohamed Qanyare Afrah was one of the handful of warlords who ruled this city. He had thousands of militiamen under his control and ran the southern part of Somalia's seaside capital as his personal fiefdom.

With no effective Somali government, warlords such as Afrah were Mogadishu's political leaders, judges, jailers and executioners until they were driven from the capital by Islamic militants six months ago.

Last week, a new Somali government retook Mogadishu with the help of Ethiopian troops. Now, Afrah is back _ and some fear the rule of the warlord is too.

"I have 1,500 militiamen under my control," Afrah told The Associated Press on Sunday from the home he returned to on Friday, a compound stocked with weapons including 12 armored vehicles mounted with double-barreled anti-aircraft guns. "And why not? An angry man is an angry man. We need to protect ourselves."

The Council of Islamic Courts terrified Somalis by meting out harsh punishment for infractions of their strict interpretation of Islam. But the militant movement also brought a semblance of order to the city for the first time in years, in part by driving out the warlords' militias.

Now nervous residents in Mogadishu report seeing freelance gunmen roaming the streets again. One man, who refused to give his name for fear of retribution, said he no longer felt safe.

"The warlords are coming back," he said.

Afrah, in his first interview with the international media since June, said government control of Mogadishu is an illusion.

The government, is utterly dependent on neighboring Ethiopia, which has the region's most powerful armed forces, he said.

"If Ethiopian forces pull out tomorrow, (the Islamists) will come back the following day," he said.

Islamic militants were still in Mogadishu in hiding and would launch "urban guerrilla warfare" with land mines and explosives, he said.

"People will live in terror and fear."

The government insists it has control of the city, but has appealed for peacekeepers.

Afrah had led a U.S.-backed warlord alliance against the Islamic movement until its defeat in June.

The warlords, most of them clan based, ruled the African nation of 8 million after overthrowing longtime dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991. They divided the country into a patchwork of rival fiefdoms, plunging the country into chaos.

Two years ago, a transitional central government was set up with the help of the United Nations. But it failed to assert control until last week, after Ethiopia stepped in.

The government has little popular support. One factor may be the participation of former warlords, including Afrah, a member of Parliament.

Afrah said he supports disarming the city's gunmen, but would not tell his militia to surrender its weapons unless Parliament passes legislation stating the government's specific aims.

Prime Minister Mohamed Ali Gedi said Saturday he expected to disarm Mogadishu within three weeks. Afrah called that wishful thinking.

"From Somaliland to Kismayo, the guns are everywhere," Afrah said. "But the word of one man with one microphone cannot solve this."

© 2006 The Associated Press