- KHARTOUM, Sudan (Reuters)
- The president of Somalia's transitional government said Friday that his
people had been "terrorized" by a U.S. propaganda campaign
the country as a possible haven for Osama bin Laden's followers.
- President Abdiqassim Salad Hassan told Reuters television
that fears of U.S. military strikes were hindering efforts to bring peace
to the country, considered by Washington as a potential target in its war
- "People are terrorized by this campaign of
against Somalia," Abdiqassim said in an interview in the Sudanese
capital Khartoum, where he was attending a summit.
- "People are terrorized to see the largest country
in the world threaten this poor country that has been ravaged by civil
war for 10 years," he said.
- The United States says it is gathering more intelligence
on Somalia, fearing Islamic militants may have exploited the lack of a
strong central authority to pursue their activities far from the eyes and
ears of government.
- Abdiqassim reiterated his position that there are no
bases of bin Laden's al Qaeda network or other extremists in Somalia, and
appealed for help from Washington to stabilize his anarchic
- "We want to unite our country, and have for that
the help of the international community, so that Somalia will not be a
breeding ground for future terrorists," he said.
- Abdiqassim said his fledgling government had set up a
committee to combat terrorism and arrested several suspects, but its
were being hampered by a lack of resources.
- The government was inaugurated in 2000, but still only
controls parts of the capital Mogadishu and other patches of territory,
competing with warlords who flourished after the fall of military ruler
Mohammed Siad Barre in 1991.
- Illustrating the government's problems, officials say
they have not been able to pay civil servants for four months and the
minister has only one working telephone line.
- "SOMALIA IS NOT AFGHANISTAN"
- Abdiqassim warned that warlords opposed to his attempts
to unite Somalia were keen to exploit the United States' sudden interest
in his country to strengthen their bid overthrow his administration, the
most serious attempt to establish a central government for a decade.
- "For their own interest, they want to see America
involved in Somalia, Somalia bombed, and then for them to take over power
like the Northern Alliance did in Afghanistan," he said.
- Diplomats say warlords who watched the Northern Alliance
rebels gain power in Afghanistan with the help of U.S. military might are
seeking a repeat performance in Somalia.
- "But Somalia is not Afghanistan. The transitional
national government is not Taliban. I am not Mullah Mohammad Omar,"
the president said, referring to the Taliban leader who sheltered bin
wanted for the September 11 attacks.
- A team of U.S. officials visited aides to opposition
warlords in the southern town of Baidoa for talks about the war on terror
last month, raising fears among aid workers that a hasty intervention could
stir further turmoil.
- Raising the specter of a disastrous U.S. humanitarian
intervention in Somalia in the early 1990s in which more than 20 American
servicemen were killed, Abdiqassim said the United States should fight
terrorism by pursuing peace, not war.
- "It was unfortunate for the Somali people, and for
the American servicemen killed in 1993, but we hope that this time another
sort of Restore Hope will come to Somalia," he said.
- "Instead of bombing Somalia, America will come as
a friendly country and will lead the efforts of the international community
to rebuild Somalia."