Somali president arrives in capital
MOGADISHU, Somalia – Somalia’s interim president entered the restive capital Monday for the first time since being selected more than two years ago, joining his administration’s struggle to give the country a functioning government it has lacked since 1991.President Abdullahi Yusuf took office in 2004 as head of a transitional administration formed with U.N. help in hopes of restoring order in a country riven by more than a decade of anarchy, but he had spent much of his time outside Somalia because of insecure conditions.Yusuf’s arrival came 10 days after Islamic fighters fled from Mogadishu at the approach of government troops, who had been under attack in their lone stronghold in the west until Ethiopian infantry, tanks and warplanes intervened in the war Dec. 24 and turned the tide.CBS News reported the U.S. military launched a strike Monday against several suspected members of al-Qaida in Somalia. The targets included the senior al-Qaida leader in East Africa and an al-Qaida operative wanted for his involvement in the 1998 bombings of the American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, according to the report which cited Pentagon sources.The interim president was expected to meet with clan elders and stay at the former presidential palace. Security across the capital was tight, though government spokesman Abdirahman Dinari claimed: “There are no security concerns at all.”Some Islamic fighters are believed hiding in Mogadishu and gunmen attacked Ethiopian troops Sunday in the second straight day of violence in the city.But Yusuf’s troops and their Ethiopian allies appeared close to defeating the main Islamic force making a stand in a jungle region in the far south that is a suspected al-Qaida base.The defense minister, Col. Barre “Hirale” Aden Shire, said troops were poised to enter Ras Kamboni, on the southernmost tip of Somalia between the sea and the Kenyan border, after a fierce two-day battle. U.S. warships patrolled off shore and the Kenyan military guarded the border to watch for fleeing militants.The CBS report said an Air Force AC-130 gunship led the attack against a site at the southern tip of Somalia. There was no confirmation that the Air Force had killed either of the al-Qaida targets.Earlier on Monday, Shire said skirmishes were still taking place outside Ras Kamboni and both sides had suffered heavy casualties.U.S. officials said after the Sept. 11 attacks that extremists with ties to al-Qaida operated a training camp at Ras Kamboni and al-Qaida members are believed to have visited it. The alleged mastermind of the embassy bombings in East Africa, Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, escaped to Ras Kamboni, according to testimony from one of the convicted bombers.Leaders of the Islamic movement have vowed from their hideouts to launch an Iraq-style guerrilla war, and al-Qaida chief Osama bin Laden’s deputy has called on militants to carry out suicide attacks on the Ethiopian troops.Many people in predominantly Muslim Somalia resent the presence of troops from neighboring Ethiopia, which has a large Christian population and has fought two brutal wars with Somalia, most recently in 1977.Somalia has not had an effective central government since clan-based warlords toppled dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991 and then turned on each other, sinking the Horn of Africa nation of 7 million people into chaos.Although Yusuf, 72, has led the interim government put together by various Somali factions during negotiations in Kenya two years ago, the president had not been in Mogadishu in more than four decades, spokesman Abdirahman Dinari told The Associated Press.A former colonel in the Somali army during the 1960s, Yusuf was jailed by Barre when he refused to cooperate in a coup d’etat in 1969. With Ethiopian support, he launched a rebellion against Barre during the 1980s.When he took office in 2004, members of the government quickly split over its priorities and where it should be located. His closeness to Ethiopia also caused tension within the government.Yusuf was believed have been the target of a car bomb assassination attempt in September in the western city of Baidoa, which the government chose as its seat because Mogadishu was deemed unsafe. His government blamed the Islamic militia, which denied having anything to do with it.Jendayi Frazer, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for Africa, said Sunday that the United States would use its diplomatic and financial resources to support the government. The U.S. has pledged $40 million in political, humanitarian and peacekeeping assistance.The African Union has begun planning for a peacekeeping force, and Uganda has promised at least 1,000 soldiers. Frazer has said she hopes the first troops will begin arriving in Mogadishu before the end of the month.The mission will be modeled on a peacekeeping force that recently concluded duty in Burundi. African troops there provided security for political leaders and key facilities while a new government took over the country.Frazer said Somalia is important to the United States because of its strategic location in the Horn of Africa, where the Red Sea opens into the Indian Ocean. The U.S. also wants to make sure international terrorists do not take advantage of Somalia’s chaos to establish a haven.—Associated Press writers Elizabeth A. Kennedy, Mohamed Sheik Nor and Salad Duhul in Mogadishu and Chris Tomlinson in Nairobi, Kenya, contributed to this report.
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