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Congress Seeking Answers On Somalia Policy‎‎

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This Week's News coverage for Somaliland and Somalia


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WASHINGTON, June 29, 2006 – Congress is apprehensive about the potential for al-Qaida militants to take control in Somalia and is seeking answers on how the administration plans to head off that possibility.

The title of a House hearing, "The Expanding Crisis in the Horn of Africa," reflects the alarm many lawmakers feel about the political changes in Somalia. Among those testifying at the hearing Thursday is Jendayi Frazer, assistant secretary of state for African affairs.

A radical Islamic leader, Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys, who is suspected by the United States of being an al-Qaida collaborator, has emerged as a powerful force in Somalia. He took over last weekend, eclipsing a moderate leader, after his colleagues in the Islamic militias in Mogadishu, the capital, signed a mutual recognition agreement with a transitional government that has U.N. backing but no authority within the country.

So lacking in clout is the government that its operations are restricted to Baidoa, more than 90 miles from the capital. The Bush administration has been trying without success for years to make the government a vital national force.

The recognition agreement signaled a willingness by the militias to accommodate the desires of the international community. The militias are aligned to the Union of Islamic Courts, a group believed to comprise moderates and radicals. Aweys' rise to the top signaled a breakthrough for the radicals.

The Bush administration has been warning for years of the need for liberty, democracy and reform in Muslim countries lest Islamic radicals gain footholds, much as they did in Afghanistan a decade ago.

Without an opportunity to redress grievances, people in these countries may "retreat hopelessly into the shadows to be preyed upon by evil men with violent designs," Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has said.

It is not clear whether Aweys fits that description. The administration is convinced, however, that three men wanted in the bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998 are living in Mogadishu. Officials want them to be prosecuted.

President Bush raised the possibility two weeks ago that Somalia might become an al-Qaida outpost.

"There's instability in Somalia," he said. "The first concern, of course, is to make sure that Somalia does not become an al-Qaida safe haven."

Shortly after the Islamic militias gained the upper hand this month, the administration recruited European and African countries to coordinate international policy toward Somalia. The group met in New York on June 15.

The Somalia issue has the Senate's attention. With Sen. Russ Feingold serving as chief sponsor, the Senate approved a resolution last week that urges U.S. support for "efforts to prevent Somalia from becoming a safe haven for terrorists and terrorist activities." The House is expected to follow the Senate's lead.

Feingold believes the administration has failed to provide the resources needed to bring about a stable outcome in Somalia.

Lawmakers have been told that only $2 million is being spent annually for development of political institutions in Somalia. They also have been told that the number of State Department personnel assigned to Somalia full time is minuscule.

An apparent attempt this spring by the administration to subdue the militias by supporting a secular alliance of warlords ended in failure three weeks ago when the militias seized control of Mogadishu.

Secrecy prevents the administration from commenting on such operations.

Susan Rice, who served as the top Africa hand in the Clinton's administration, said any U.S. support for the warlords would have been a "major policy misjudgment."

"Supporting warlords who have themselves engaged in atrocities is bound to backfire in a society where retribution is too often the order of the day," she said in a telephone interview.

Source: Seattle Post

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