UN says Somalia has best chance for peace in years

MOGADISHU (Reuters) — The top UN envoy to Somalia, making his first visit since a war last month, said on Thursday the Horn of Africa nation now had its best chance to end 16 years of anarchy and bloodshed.

Francois Lonseny Fall, special representative of the UN secretary general, made a swift visit to Mogadishu two weeks after Ethiopian and Somali government troops swept aside Islamists who had run south Somalia for six months.

“This is the best opportunity for peace for 16 years in Somalia and we must not waste it,” Fall said after meeting interim President Abdullahi Yusuf in the bullet and shell-marked presidential palace, Villa Somalia.

“I want to congratulate you. To see the president in Villa Somalia is a very important step,” Fall told Yusuf, who days ago came to Mogadishu for the first time since his 2004 appointment.

The Villa Somalia was the seat of former dictator Mohammad Siad Barre, whose 1991 overthrow plunged the country into years of anarchy and bloodshed.

Escorted by a mix of UN guards and Somali government forces wielding AK-47s, Fall urged Yusuf and other leaders of the interim government to reach out to opponents and create an all-inclusive administration to avoid further conflict.

“There has been a lot of crime, a lot of devastation, but if you look back and say ‘this man killed my son or husband’ you will never be reconciled in this country,” Fall said. “We should leave the judgement to God. Only Allah can judge everybody.” Ethiopia is eager to pull out its troops and there is widespread concern about a vacuum unless an African peacekeeping force can be brought in to safeguard stability and protect the government.

The United Nations has endorsed such a force in principle, but so far only Uganda has publicly pledged to contribute troops and other nations are wary of the risks.

Until the war, the government was confined to the southern town of Baidoa and in danger of being overrun by an Islamist movement born out of Sharia courts in Mogadishu.


‘No more warlords’


Now installed in Mogadishu, it faces a mammoth task to pacify one of the world’s most lawless and gun-infested states.

As well as the threat of guerrilla strikes from surviving Islamist forces, the government needs to reconcile feuding clans and keep former warlords in check.

“The will of the international community and of the UN is to see a reconciled Somalia. The road is still long and we still have a lot to do,” Fall, a former prime minister of Guinea, told Yusuf. “We don’t want any more warlords in Somalia. We will not tolerate that. We want a government.” Yusuf, a 72-year-old former soldier, urged his visitor to relocate UN offices for Somalia from Nairobi to Mogadishu, and insisted his government was already engaged in dialogue.

“As you can see, reconciliation is going on. We are meeting all the faction leaders,” Yusuf said, accompanied by warlord Said Hersi, known as General Morgan. “Today we are disarming them and I think everyone is very happy now.” Wednesday’s ouster of the pro-Islamist speaker of parliament was seen by some analysts, however, as a sign the government is keener to exact revenge and concentrate its power than to create a genuinely all-inclusive administration.

The Islamists, defeated by superior Ethiopian armour in a one-sided two-week war, have fled to Somalia’s remote southern tip near the Kenyan border.

Civil society groups who met with Fall underlined the need for reconciliation, and also called for more urgent humanitarian aid for Somalis suffering from a 2005-06 drought, floods at the end of 2006, and a year of conflict across the south.

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