Somalia's leader asks for world's support


NAIROBI, Kenya -- Somalia's Prime Minister Mohammed Ali Gedi condemned the international community yesterday for standing by while his countrymen suffered during years of bloodshed, and he called for concrete support for the country's transitional government.

"It is inhuman to watch and wait and see. It's unacceptable to watch this punishment of the Somali people," Gedi told diplomats gathered here for a seven-nation conference on Somalia's future.

The conference took place in the wake of a victory last week by Islamist forces over warlords in Mogadishu, the country's largest city and nominal capital.

Gedi, prime minister of the country's Transitional Federal Government, warned that after the takeover, the Islamists' agenda is unknown and the country's future is unclear.

Despite its international recognition, the transitional government lacks the credibility and power to establish itself in Mogadishu.

It is based, instead, in Baidoa, about 140 miles to the northeast.

Without international help, "the developments in Somalia will lead to another catastrophe," Gedi said.

The transitional government, which was formed two years ago in an attempt to re-create a central government for Somalia, "has been doing its best, but they cannot achieve alone any tangible results without having our partners behind us," he said.

"If we still wait and see, the issue of the Somali people will be out of control. It will not be only limited to Somalia, it will be a regional problem."

Somalia has had no government since 1991. There were 13 failed attempts to forge a central government before the establishment of the transitional government.

In 1992, the United States intervened in Somalia during a famine to try to protect aid deliveries amid clan warfare. A botched raid against a warlord in Mogadishu led to the deaths of 18 Army Rangers and the end of the direct U.S. effort there.

Now, after a decade and a half of clan warfare and anarchy, Somalia has reached another potential turning point, after militias of the Islamic Courts Union drove out an alliance of warlords that had ruled Mogadishu for 15 years.

Amid intense international pressure to avoid a new bout of fighting, informal talks have been under way between the transitional government and Courts Union in recent days. Tensions have already surfaced over whether to invite a small contingent of African Union peacekeeping troops to Somalia.

At the conference here, seven regional powers agreed on sanctions against the warlords, including a travel ban and a freeze on their assets.

With little public support in Mogadishu because of years of lawlessness and extortion in the city, the warlords are seen by analysts as a spent force after their defeat.

The seven countries, known as Inter-Governmental Authority on Development, have been trying to help broker peace and set up a government in Somalia.

Speaking at an open session before the meeting, a senior European Union official, Louis Michel, raised the possibility of partially lifting a U.N. arms embargo on Somalia to enable the transitional government to build a national police and security force.

That move could come if the transitional government presented a viable security plan for the country, he suggested.

Robyn Dixon writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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