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US Says Will Work With Somali Anti-Terror Groups
Fighting has raged in Mogadishu this week between militant Islamic fundamentalists and an anti-terrorism alliance of warlords that Somalia's interim President Abdillahi Yusuf accuses Washington of backing. At least 133 people have died in six days of fighting.
Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Jendayi Frazer said it was her government's policy to support all groups wanting to prevent the Horn of Africa country from becoming a haven for al Qaeda.
Asked whether Washington was funding or working with the group at the center of this week's battles in Mogadishu, called the Alliance for the Restoration of Peace and Counter-Terrorism, Frazer said she had "no idea."
"But our policy is very clear. We will work with those elements that will help us to root out al Qaeda and to prevent Somalia becoming a safe haven for terrorists, and we are doing it in the interests of protecting America," said Frazer in an interview with Reuters.
Frazer said the State Department's main focus was to work with Somalia's interim president, the prime minister and the speaker of the Assembly to try and form a united government.
Washington has long viewed Somalia, without an effective government since the 1991 ousting of former dictator Mohamed Siyad Barre, as a terrorist haven.
Asked specifically whether she knew of any members of the U.S. government who were working with the anti-terrorism alliance, she replied: "You are asking the wrong person."
The State Department's annual terrorism report released last month said parts of Somalia had become havens for terrorist and other illicit activities threatening the region's security.
WHO DO YOU WORK WITH?
The report said a small number of al Qaeda "terrorists" responsible for the 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania operated in Somalia and were helped by "elements within the complicated Somali clan structure."
There are conflicting views within the U.S. government over which groups should be co-opted in fighting terrorism and whether support for warlords in Somalia, for example, is the right route.
Asked if it was worth supporting anti-terrorism groups like those in Somalia, Frazer said this debate had been going on for years in Washington, particularly during the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001.
"That is a huge debate. ... Who would you deal with and who wouldn't you deal with? Who do you work with who has information and who don't you work with?" she said.
U.N. experts said on Wednesday they were investigating an unnamed country's clandestine support for an anti-terrorism alliance of Somali warlords in apparent violation of a U.N. arms embargo.
Washington's ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton, strongly denied on Friday the United States was breaking an arms embargo in Somalia.
"I can assure you we are not violating the arms embargo. That is clear, and I just don't think there is any real question about that."