Sun, Aug 24, 2003 - Page 6 News List

Somali presidential hopefuls jockey for right to rule region

AP , NAIROBI, KENYA

Somalia is choosing a president in a process that people here hope will bring stability after a dozen years of violence and chaos -- and 52 people are running for the top job, including the former dictator's brother and a soft-spoken millionaire who hasn't lived in the country for 26 years.

"The word peace is missing from the Somali dictionary," said wealthy businessman Al Haj Mohamed Yassin, the latest to join the field of presidential candidates in this Horn of Africa nation.

"It's high time someone stepped forward and said enough is enough," he told reporters at press conference on Thursday.

Somalia has not had a functioning government since clan-based opposition leaders joined forces to oust dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991. They then turned on each other, reducing the country to a patchwork of fiefdoms ruled by heavily armed clan-based factions.

Although a transitional government was elected at an August 2000 peace conference in neighboring Djibouti, it has had little influence outside the capital, Mogadishu, and has been unable to disarm the gunmen. Its three-year mandate expired on Aug. 12.

After more than a dozen rounds of talks between warlords, clan leaders and members of the transitional government trying to end the chaos, the 366 delegates have agreed to create a parliament, which will appoint a president to govern the entire nation.

Ordinary Somalis won't choose the 351 members of parliament. That decision will be made the heads of 23 clan-based factions, in consultation with tribal leaders, who signed a cessation of hostilities agreement last October.

The goal is to select a parliament by next month, but the process could well take longer, and there is no deadline. Meanwhile, delegates are putting the final touches to the country's transitional charter.

The pool of presidential candidates is something of a looking glass into Somalia's past.

Abdirahman Jama Barre, brother of the former dictator, is running for the job.

Also in the race is Hussein Mohamed Aidid, a former US Marine and son of Mogadishu warlord Mohamed Farah Aidid, who managed to evade capture by American troops in 1993. A mission to apprehend some of Aidid's aides in October of that year resulted in the deaths of 18 American soldiers.

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