NAIROBI â€” Somalia’s president vowed on Sunday to use persuasion rather than force to disarm its many militias, saying warlords and businessmen should realise it was in their interests to demobilise the gunmen they control.
In a Reuters interview, Abdullahi Yusuf, whose government is beset by wrangling about where it should be based, added he was confident of one day setting up his administration in Mogadishu but he insisted that as yet the capital city was too dangerous.
“We will pacify the whole country through reconciliation, through convincing each other, through reconciling tribes who fought each other during the war,” he said in Kenya en route to Saudi Arabia to discuss possible aid for his government.
“But we will never pacify Somalia by force, absolutely not.”
Yusuf, 70, a former army officer chosen by lawmakers at peace talks last year, said he was building up a security force around the country but it was not a proper army and in any case military might was not the way to peace.
“My message to the Somali people is clear: I would like Somalis to forget and forgive what happened in 15 years of civil war,” he said. “They have to support fully the government’s effort so that Somalia will be pacified as soon as possible.”
Somalia has been without a central government since warlords ousted former dictator Mohammed Siad Barre in 1991 plunging the Horn of Africa nation into anarchy. Most of Somalia has since been carved into territories held by rival militias.
The government has been recruiting fighters across the country in recent weeks in what looks to some Somalis like the prelude to an attack on bases held by some Cabinet ministers critical of Yusuf, many of whom are based in Mogadishu.
The UN Security Council, monitoring faltering attempts to restore effective administration to the country of up to 10 million, says any hostile military action by any party would be unacceptable and those responsible would be held accountable.
Earlier this year pro- and anti-Yusuf forces fought two battles for Baidoa town, which Yusuf has said he would like to serve as one of two temporary bases of his administration.
Yusuf, on good terms with regional power Ethiopia, said he would persuade rather than force his critics, who include some Mogadishu warlords and powerful businessmen, to cooperate.
“It is in their own interest to put down weapons but we are not disarming by force. We are convincing them to disarm in the interests of the whole country,” he said.
Several Cabinet ministers and the speaker of parliament want Yusuf to base himself in Mogadishu but Yusuf, whose political base is north-central Somalia, wants to use temporary bases in provincial towns as he feels Mogadishu is too risky.
Yusuf declined to disclose the size of the security force but said it was not an attempt at a national army because his Transitional Federal Government (TFG) lacked the funds.
“A government without a security force cannot function anywhere, in any country. It is not an army because we have no strength, no economic possibility for building up an army.”
“Businessmen need peace. If they want peace and make legal business, they have to disarm. After all, they are men like us, they understand what is their real interest.”
Donor countries â€” criticised by Yusuf for giving inadequate aid to his fledgling administration â€” say the TFG is likely to receive significant foreign funding and assistance only when it takes clear steps to mend the rifts in its own ranks.
Yusuf’s visit to Kenya coincided with one by Mogadishu-based Parliament Speaker Sharif Hassan Sheikh Adan, but it was not clear whether the two men would meet.
The holding of such talks would be seen by donors as a positive sign.
“I do not consider myself his enemy,” Yusuf said. “But we have different ideas. He sees things one way and I see them another. We can have different opinions without becoming enemies.”