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By   Nicholas Kralev

WASHINGTON DC,   May 24, 2006 --   The United States is "wrongly blamed" for recent fighting between warlords and Islamic militants in Somalia, although it does support efforts to counter the militants because they protect terrorists, a senior U.S. diplomat said yesterday.  

William Bellamy, the ambassador to Kenya who also manages relations with Somalia owing to the absence of a U.S. embassy there, neither confirmed nor denied reports that Washington is funding a coalition of warlords calling itself an anti-terrorist alliance.

"It is true that the U.S. has encouraged a variety of groups in Somalia, in all corners of the country, and among all clans, to oppose the al Qaeda presence and reject the Somali militants who shelter and protect these terrorists," Mr. Bellamy wrote in a letter to Kenya's Daily Nation newspaper.  

He did not name the groups Washington supports, but did not exclude the warlords, who call themselves Alliance for the Restoration of Peace and Counterterrorism (ARPCT).  

They have been fighting militias backed by Mogadishu's influential Islamic courts since February in fierce street battles that have claimed more than 200 lives.  

Washington and the ARPCT accuse the militants of having links to al Qaeda, while the Islamic courts and even members of Somalia's transitional government say that the United States is pouring in money to support their enemies.  

Sheik Hassan Dahir Aweys, a leading Islamist on Washington's list of most-wanted terrorists, said the courts do not harbor foreign militants.  

"That's pure propaganda," he was quoted as saying by Reuters news agency. "There are no terrorists here. [The Americans] are only looking for a reason to turn our country into another Iraq. We will continue fighting as long as they attack us."  

The Bush administration has been worried for years about Somalia becoming a safe haven for al Qaeda, much as Afghanistan was before September 11, 2001. In a 2002 interview with The Washington Times, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell singled out the lawless African country as a "fertile ground" for terror.  

Because a functioning government has been absent from Somalia for 15 years, the United States has been trying to find other allies to help it counter the terrorist threat.  

"The U.S. has offered strong moral and diplomatic support to the institutions of the newly founded and still struggling Somali government," Mr. Bellamy said. "Lost in the diplomacy and politics is the fact that the U.S. is reaching out in many ways to help improve the lives of ordinary Somalis."  

He said that the United States has donated $81 million for food aid in the past six months, as well as $2.5 million to "grass-roots community organizations for peace-building projects."  

"Somalis are working together to end hate propaganda, clan conflicts and revenge killings at U.S.-funded peace centers," he said. "Throughout Somalia, the United States works with nearly 60 NGOs [nongovernmental organizations] to promote good government and support peace and conflict resolution."

Source:   Washington Times, May 23, 2006

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