Ethiopian Troops Leave Security In Mogadishu to City's Residents

Disarmament Order Is Roundly Ignored

Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, January 3, 2007; Page A14

MOGADISHU, Somalia, Jan. 2 -- The sandy road from airstrip K-50 is littered with the remnants of roadblocks, heaps of pushed-aside stones left over from when warlords balkanized this coastal capital, and rusted metal gates where Islamic militias took charge from the warlords.

On Tuesday, clusters of Ethiopian troops were here and there on the road into the city, leaning against gray crumbling walls or passing in trucks along wasted yellow cornfields still sopping from recent floods.

Within the city's borders, the Ethiopian troops who chased out the country's Islamic Courts movement on behalf of Somalia's weak transitional government were hardly visible.

Six days after the transitional government took hold, very little security was evident beyond that which Somalis have grown accustomed to providing for themselves: roving pickup trucks filled with armed teenagers, and AK-47-toting militiamen who guard the city block by block, and clan by clan.

It was the first day after Prime Minister Ali Mohamed Gedi demanded that thousands of former Islamic fighters and citizens in general surrender their weapons or be forcibly disarmed. But with the ability of Gedi's government to provide security in doubt, almost no one complied.

Only a few spectators showed up at the points the government had set up to collect guns.

In an interview, the country's interior minister, Hussein Farah Aideed, said lawmakers would return this week to their town of exile, Baidoa, to approve Gedi's declaration of martial law and a plan to allow 90 days -- instead of Gedi's original timeline of three days -- to disarm militias.

In what amounted to an appeal for outside help, Aideed also conceded that the transitional government was weak. "We have a symbolic government. Ministries we don't have, a military we don't have," he said, sitting in shirt and tie inside a house fortified with his personal set of guards slinging assault rifles. "We're limited."

Aideed is the son of Mohamed Farah Aideed, a Somali warlord targeted by U.S. military forces in a failed raid in 1993 that led to the deaths of 18 American soldiers.

In a densely populated neighborhood of Mogadishu, people still walk past the rusted parts of the U.S. Black Hawk helicopters shot down in that incident. They buy mangoes next to the rusted-out shells of tanks. They go about life in a city of salty air and bombed-out buildings and the leftover grace of old Italian arches.

On Tuesday, Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi reiterated that he would withdraw his troops soon, while Gedi appealed to the 53-country African Union to accelerate efforts to deploy troops to Somalia.

Perhaps thousands of militiamen who fought for the vanquished Islamic Courts movement have melted back into the city's maze-like neighborhoods, each now controlled by clans and sub-clans and sub-sub-clans. There is lingering tension around the city that nothing is settled yet, and fears remain that the Islamic fighters could reemerge in a guerrilla-style war against the government that ousted them.

Aideed said the most hardened fighters had fled south with their leaders along the coast toward the Kenyan border, where they were being pursued by Ethiopian troops. The group is thought to include three suspects in the 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, and the U.S. Navy was patrolling Somalia's coast to help prevent escapes by sea.

The fighters have vanished into an area thick with mangrove forests, and Aideed said that finding them would be difficult even for the best-trained soldiers.

On Monday, Kenyan authorities arrested 10 foreigners suspected of being Islamic fighters as they attempted to slip across the border.

Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki said in a statement that his country would not provide refuge to people seeking to undermine regional stability.

Some analysts have said, however, that for political reasons, Kenyan authorities might give refuge to certain members of the Islamic movement in an effort to avoid trouble with their own substantial population of Somalis who might be sympathetic to the exiled fighters.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company