SOMALIA'S U.N.-BACKED GOVERNMENT STRUGGLES
By CHRIS TOMLINSON, Associated Press Writer
Fri Jul 7, 3:28 PM ET
BAIDOA, Somalia - In an old grain warehouse spruced up with posters and vinyl flooring, Somalia's president and prime minister watched the swearing
in of a regional governor this week, an event that looked like a small step toward government control of this anarchic country.
In reality, though, the
U.N.-backed leaders' authority barely extends beyond their makeshift parliament building.
An Islamic militia that
has vowed to bring a Quran-based government and justice system to Somalia
has begun setting up local administrations across most of the country. The militia even has elements here in the home of the
official government: Baidoa has a recruiting station for the fighters, who control the capital, Mogadishu, and much of the south.
"If you want to join the
Islamic courts militia, you can sign up in that office right over there and they will take you for training in Mogadishu," said Adam Nunow Ali, a 40-year-old school teacher, pointing toward a storefront
on Baidoa's main street. "They have many agents in Baidoa."
The militia's hard-line
leader is a longtime bitter rival of President Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed, whose transitional government signed a nonaggression
agreement with the Islamic fighters in Khartoum, Sudan
last month. Talks between the two sides are scheduled to begin in Sudan
on July 15. Many Somalis worry about what will happen if those talks break down.
Because his government has
no army, Ahmed has called for foreign peacekeepers to provide him military muscle in a country where every clan has its own
militia. He has also called on the Islamic council to disarm and respect the secular transitional constitution.
Sheik Hassan Dahir Aweys,
who leads the council and has battled Yusuf in one way or another for the last 15 years, has called for a holy war if foreign
troops enter Somalia. He has insisted
on an Islamic government for a country that is nearly 100 percent Muslim.
"We believe it will tear
us apart," Ali, the school teacher, said of the difference in goals for Somalia's
future. "Then there will be chaos."
A recruitment video obtained
by The Associated Press on Wednesday showed Arab fighters alongside Somali Islamic militiamen, and encouraged more Arab Islamic
extremists to join the fighters loyal to the Islamic courts. And in tapes attributed to al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden, Somalia
is portrayed as a battleground in his global war on the United States.
Some Somalis in Baidoa said
that they want the Islamic courts to replace the government.
"I support those individuals
who are trying to impose Islamic law," said Osman Ahmed Osman, speaking in Arabic to avoid being arrested by the president's
The government currently
depends mostly on international funding channeled through U.N. agencies. The U.N. Development Program, which has spent more
than $7 million to support the government, helped refurbish police stations in Baidoa and the warehouse-turned-parliament,
which features vinyl flooring and posters for mobile phone companies.
But the government also
wants guns and troops to go with them. Somalia
remains under a U.N. arms embargo and the international community has so far moved slowly on those requests.
The government's top police
officer, Brig. Gen. Ali Hassan, confirmed that the government currently cannot defend itself and that his force has yet to
take authority from clan-based militias, even in Baidoa. He echoed Yusuf's call for foreign troops to prop up the government,
especially since Islamic radicals are active in Baidoa.
"They have their elements,
they can recruit, they can infiltrate the Baidoa community," Hassan said.
Yusuf's personal militia
has new Chinese-made assault rifles, which a U.N. report says were supplied by Ethiopia.
Ethiopia has also deployed thousands of troops to its border with Somalia, apparently poised to cross over to protect Yusuf
Aweys has accused Ethiopia of sending troops into Somali border towns and uses such reports to rally support
in Mogadishu, where hatred for Ethiopia
have supported separatist groups in Ethiopia.
The Ethiopian government has supported the Somali Islamists' rivals with guns and money to keep them from taking power.