U.S. Diplomat Meets With Somali Leaders

By Stephanie McCrummen
Washington Post Foreign Service
Sunday, January 7, 2007; 2:04 PM

MOGADISHU, Somalia, Jan. 7 -- U.S. diplomat Jendayi Frazer who planned to visit Mogadishu on Sunday met with Somali political leaders in Nairobi, Kenya, instead.

Frazer, the assistant secretary of state for African affairs, said the United States would use its diplomatic and financial resources to support the interim Somali government, wire services reported.

"I think we are pushing uphill as an international community, as well as the Somali people themselves, to try to overcome their history," Frazer told the Associated Press.

Frazer had been planning a visit to Mogaishu on Sunday but it was called off because of security concerns in the capital, the site of violent demonstrations by Somalis demanding that Ethiopian troops leave the city.

"Some people would like the United States to lead on this issue," she said. "I would prefer that we lead from behind, and what I mean by that is pushing the Somali people first, pushing the sub-region next and then mobilizing the resources of the international community."

After meeting Frazer in Nairobi, Somali Prime Minister Ali Mohamed Gedi said: "We are going to work together for the stabilisation of Somalia," Reuters news service reported.

Following battles between Ethiopian troops and fighters loyal to the ousted Islamic movement and days of unrest, hundreds of angry and fed-up Somalis on Saturday demanded that Ethiopian troops leave Mogadishu, smashing cars, burning tires, and hurling stones and threats as a prevailing sense of insecurity deepened in the patched-together neighborhoods of the capital city.A volatile mix of grievances fueled the clashes between demonstrators and Ethiopian troops, leaving at least two people dead.

Tensions are rising over the presence of the Ethiopian troops, who are perceived here as having U.S. backing and last week pushed out an Islamic movement widely credited with bringing security to the capital. Almost immediately after taking control, the ascendant prime minister, Ali Mohamed Gedi, announced that he would begin forcibly disarming Somalia's matrix of clans, whose members are accustomed to relying on their own stashes of AK-47 assault rifles for protection in a country that has been without a central government since 1991.

Following the protests, Gedi said the disarmament would be postponed indefinitely. "They are saying disarmament when you can't safely sleep at home without people guarding you," said Ugas Abulaihi Farah, leader of the Suleiyman sub-sub-clan, clutching a gold-handled cane. "My people are angry about this. . . . Before disarming, there should be security."

But at the moment in Mogadishu, there is little of that.

As Gedi's internationally recognized government scrambles to establish ministries, police and other services from scratch, the city is reverting to its old forms of self-governance. Clan and sub-clan leaders who trace their lineage back to Adam and control thousands of people and weapons say that Gedi has not consulted with them. The city's old collection of warlords and freelance militias seems to be reemerging, as groups rebuild roadblocks and checkpoints that for years rendered the city impassable.

Fighters who were loyal to the ousted Islamic movement remain hidden in the city's Byzantine neighborhoods of corrugated steel and graceful arches, barbed-wire coils and donkey carts. According to one fighter, young militiamen are awaiting instructions from their leaders, who reportedly are on the run along the Indian Ocean coast near the Kenyan border, where U.S. warships are on patrol.

The Islamic Courts movement, which took power in June, included moderate leaders as well as some suspected of having ties to al-Qaeda and of sheltering three suspects in the 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. The Islamic Courts leaders have denied those charges, and analysts say the connection between the movement and al-Qaeda has been exaggerated.

The Islamic movement's fundamentalist brand of Islam was foreign to most Somalis, who adhere to a more moderate interpretation but seemed willing, at least at first, to tolerate the social restrictions in exchange for security.

Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi grew increasingly uncomfortable with the prospect of an Islamic government on his border, and in late December, Ethiopian troops backing Gedi's government swept the Islamic movement from power.

Within days, Mogadishu shifted from a period of unusual calm, during which people could freely drive across the capital from corner to corner, to the current sense of uncertainty, with the occupation of Ethiopian troops and the return of militias.

"People have no clear idea what's going on in the city," said Mohamud Uluso, a former banker who had attempted to mediate between the Islamic Courts and the nascent Somali government. "There are roadblocks everywhere and large numbers of unemployed youths not going to school . . . . People are charged internally. People are charged to explode."

The protests began in the dark hours of Saturday morning and spilled into the early afternoon, with Ethiopian troops firing into the air from among the crowds in a neighborhood that had been a stronghold of the ousted Islamic movement. Women and children were among those flooding the streets and wielding sticks in the air. By afternoon, Gedi had rescinded the disarmament deadline and the city seemed to snap back into its old rhythms.

On sandy, lumpy Adde Road, about three miles from where the protests broke out, people hauled wood to a building under construction and loaded bags of pasta onto donkey carts.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company