Somali Ruler Says His Country
Is Being Terrorized By US

By Matthew Green

KHARTOUM, Sudan (Reuters) - The president of Somalia's transitional government said Friday that his people had been "terrorized" by a U.S. propaganda campaign portraying 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 on terror.
"People are terrorized by this campaign of propaganda 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 homeland.
"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 efforts 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 information minister has only one working telephone line.
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 Laden, 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."

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