Fri, May 19, 2006 - Page 6 News List

US restates interests in Somalia

TERROR The US wants the African nation stabilized to counter regional terrorism, though Washington's role in the current conflict is raising some awkward questions


The White House on Wednesday expressed its commitment to working with "regional and international partners" in Somalia to establish a functioning central government, and to prevent Islamic extremism from taking root there.

"The US strongly supports the transitional federal institutions in Somalia, because they are trying to reestablish a functioning central government within Somalia that can bring the Somali people out of the period of civil conflict," White House spokesman Tony Snow said at a press conference.

Snow said that Washington has long been concerned that ongoing unrest could turn lawless Somalia into a haven for terrorists.

"You've got instability in Somalia right now, and there is concern about the presence of foreign terrorists, particularly al-Qaeda, within Somalia," Snow told reporters.

"In an environment of instability, as we've seen in the past, al-Qaeda may take root, and we want to make sure that al-Qaeda does not in fact establish a beachhead in Somalia," he said.

"These are problems that we've seen in other ungoverned regions in the past. The terrorists are going to seek to take advantage of the environment and use that kind of chaos in order to put together camps and therefore mount operations around the world," the spokesman added.

"We will continue to work with regional and international partners wherever we can to crack down on terrorism and also to try to prevent its rising," Snow said.

US involvement?

Somalia has been engulfed by deadly violence, with the latest surge of violence over the past several days around the capital Mogadishu killing nearly 140 people.

The nation of some 10 million people has been without a functioning central authority since the 1991 fall of strongman Mohamed Siad Barre plunged it into anarchy, with warlords battling for control of a patchwork of fiefdoms.

More than a dozen attempts to restore stability have failed, and the current government has been racked by infighting and unable to assert control.

Snow skirted questions as to whether the US was supporting one of the parties in the conflict the Alliance for the Restoration of Peace and Counter-Terrorism.

Some 250 people have died in three bouts of fighting this year between militia linked to Islamic courts in Mogadishu and a self-styled anti-terrorism coalition of warlords many believe to be funded by the US.

However, a British government said on Wednesday after a recent trip to the war-torn nation that he had seen no evidence to substantiate accusations that Washington was funding the Mogadishu warlords.

International Development Secretary Hilary Benn told reporters in London: "I am aware that people have made those comments ... I haven't seen any evidence myself."

Benn met the president of Somalia's interim government, Abdullahi Yusuf, during his visit to Baidoa, a provincial town where the interim government administration is based due to insecurity in Mogadishu.

Talking about the recent conflict, Benn said: "I don't think the fighting that has been taken place in Mogadishu undermines the importance of working to make the transitional government a success."

Yusuf's government is the 14th attempt to restore central rule since former dictator Mohammed Siad Barre was ousted in 1991.

Benn's African trip included stopovers in Uganda and Kenya. He said he had discussed Kenya's corruption issues with President Mwai Kibaki while in Nairobi.

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