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Al-Jazeera Interviews Somali Leader On Ill Health, Peace Process
"Exclusive Interview" program featuring an Interview with Abdullah Yusuf, head of the Somali interim government, conducted by Nasir al-Badri
Doha, Qatar, 27 January 2008 - Al-Jazeera TV carries a new episode of its "Exclusive Interview" program moderated by Nasir al-Badri. The guest on today's episode is Abdullah Yusuf, head of the interim Somali Government. The interview is conducted in English with superimposed translation into Arabic; translated from the Arabic.
Al-Badri begins by saying that there have been many rumors regarding Yusuf's health, and asks about his health condition. Yusuf asserts that his health is good after having suffered a lung infection.
Al-Badri asks what Yusuf has achieved more than one year after entering Somalia, backed by Ethiopian forces, and after crushing the Islamic Court forces. Yusuf stresses that they have achieved "many things." He adds: "First, we defeated the terrorists, who practiced terrorism in the name of Islam." He stresses that they are not Muslims because they "kill in a random and indiscriminate manner members of the Muslim Somali people." He adds that a government was later formed in Mogadishu, and notes that the capital is enjoying "almost complete peace." Moreover, he says that soon all of Somalia will enjoy peace. Yusuf says: "We have begun reconciliation with Somali tribes. The National Reconciliation Congress was held several months ago. Now we are living in peace with various areas and districts through reconciliation with all citizens." He adds that based on peace and reconciliation a permanent government will be formed. Yusuf says that elections will be held in 2009 after a new constitution is approved by the people, and that the current government will hand over authority to the newly elected government.
Al-Badri says: "You talk about reconciliation, but with whom? Many people have asked you to negotiate with the Islamic Courts." Yusuf says: "The Islamic Courts came later." He explains that the local tribes had formed a coalition to cooperate among them before the emergence of the so-called Islamic Courts. He says that the Islamic Courts are "terrorist groups affiliated with Al-Qa'ida, with Usama Bin Ladin and his followers who have taken refuge in mountainous regions between Afghanistan and Pakistan. I do not know their location, but they were trained at the hands of these people."
Al-Badri says that even the Americans distinguish between so-called Islamic moderates and Islamic extremists or terrorists within the ranks of the Islamic Courts. Asked if reconciliation can be achieved with the moderates, Yusuf says: "We know our people more than the Americans or other foreign countries know them." He stresses that many Islamic Courts members are terrorists whose names are listed on UN and international lists. He adds that there are some people who call themselves the "Al-Muqawamah [the resistance]" and that they do not know what they are defending. He notes that they have been deceived by Al-Qa'ida leaders. He urges them to repudiate violence and accept peace, and says that if they are not known terrorists and if they refrain from carrying out acts of violence, then it will be possible to negotiate with them.
Al-Badri argues that they claim that they are fighting against the Ethiopian occupation of Somalia. Yusuf says: "What they say is foolish." He explains: "The Ethiopian forces came upon a request by the country's legitimate government. I am the president of the country and I signed the request after a decision was made by the government and the parliament." He stresses that the government is "legally authorized" to seek the help of any force to protect the lives of Somalis from those terrorists.
Al-Badri says: "But they say that when you asked the Ethiopian forces to come, you did not have the support of the Somali people or even the support of the big Somali tribes such as the Hawiyah tribe in Mogadishu, which does not support your government, because you are a minority government." Yusuf says that this is not true. He says that Hawiyah is not such a big tribe. He stresses that the authority is shared among many parties including the coalition tribes. He explains that there are four tribes, including Hawiyah, and that they have equal numbers of seats in parliament. He stresses that his government is not a minority government, and that it enjoys the support of the majority of the Somali people.
Al-Badri says: "But the problem is that by bringing the Ethiopian forces, you have united all of your enemies against you," and notes the history of disputes between Somalia and Ethiopia. Yusuf says that when a government feels that it is facing a particular danger, it has the right to solicit the help of any foreign force to "eliminate the terrorists." He explains that the central government in Somalia lost control over the country 17 years ago, and all security forces were eliminated. He explains that currently they are reorganizing, restructuring, and training the security forces. He adds that the government is working on forming special forces to protect the country; therefore, there is a need for international forces at present. He notes that the international forces are not limited to Ethiopia, but that they include forces from Uganda and Burundi. He adds that the government has asked the United Nations to dispatch forces.
Al-Badri notes that a UN representative met a few days ago with Somali opposition officials in Eritrea, but did not meet with any government officials. He asks: "Do you know why?" Yusuf says that he does not know why because he was in London at the time. However, he says that the UN representative, an Arab from Mauritania, is seeking to convince those people of peace by repudiating violence and engaging in negotiations with the government.
Asked to describe his relations with Ethiopia, Yusuf says that the Somali and Ethiopian peoples are neighbors, and that "many Somalis are Ethiopians, and millions of Somalis are in Ethiopia and are Ethiopians now; hence we are friendly peoples."
Al-Badri says: "But the Ethiopians imprisoned you in 1985 for six years." Yusuf says that this happened during the former military regime of Mengistu Haile Mariam who is currently in exile in Zimbabwe, and that Mariam "was wrong." He notes that he was against [former Somali President] Seyad Berri, but that he is not against his country and that he loves his country.
Al-Badri says that many people say that Ethiopia's intervention in Somalia serves Ethiopia's national interests. Yusuf stresses that the majority of Somalis are satisfied with Ethiopia's assistance. He adds: "Those you have mentioned are a minority, and they are mainly terrorists. They deceived youths when they called themselves Al-Muqawamah. Al-Muqawamah against whom? Against their own government? Against their country? This is foolish."
Al-Badri says that many people say that Ethiopia and other regional countries are settling scores in Somalia. Yusuf asks why Al-Badri insists on asking about Ethiopia, but does not ask about Burundi or Uganda. Al-Badri says that " Ethiopia and other regional countries have their own agendas." Yusuf says: "I believe you have feelings of hatred toward Ethiopia." Al-Badri says that he does not have any animosity toward Ethiopia but that he is posing justified questions. Yusuf says: "If Al-Jazirah has feelings of hatred toward Ethiopia, then I am not from Qatar. I am from Somalia."
Following a short break, Al-Badri says: "We do not have any animosity toward anyone. We are merely trying to clarify a few points." Yusuf stresses that no one knows Somalia's interests more than they do, and that they are working to achieve peace in Somalia.
Al-Badri says that Yusuf had threatened military action against Somaliland forces, and that the president of Somaliland was on the same plane with Yusuf to London. Asked if it was a coincidence, Yusuf says: "Well, I know what I said there about this subject in particular. I said that no one can divide Somalia and that no district in Somalia can succeed without the rest of the districts," and he adds: "We will not allow any part of Somalia to establish a separate state. Somalia must remain a united country with one president, one flag, and one government."
Asked if military action will be used against Somaliland, Yusuf says that he is certain that through negotiations and peaceful means the unity of Somalia can be achieved.
Asked if the dispute with Somaliland is due to the discovery of an oilfield in the disputed area, Yusuf says that oil in Somalia is the possession of the Somali people and not the possession of a particular district, tribe, or man. He stresses that such action "is forbidden."
Al-Badri says: "But this is what Somaliland has said." Yusuf stresses that Somaliland is an "inseparable part" of Somalia.
Al-Badri says that Somaliland considers itself "an independent and sovereign state." Yusuf says that some of them believe that, but that the majority of the Somali people support unity and a federal system.
Al-Badri says that the United Nations has described the situation in Somalia as "depressing." Yusuf asks: "Do you believe the UN representatives, or do you believe the president of Somalia?" Al-Badri says this is what the United Nations has said. Yusuf stresses that there is "almost complete peace" in Mogadishu, and that peace will soon prevail throughout Somalia. He stresses that what is being said by the United Nations, Al-Jazirah, and Al-Muqawamah is "foolish." He adds: "I am responsible for Somalia. I am the president of Somalia today. And I would like Somalia to enjoy peace soon, and to be once again united and democratic."
Asked about the departure of the Ethiopian forces from Somalia, Yusuf says: "There is nothing for the Ethiopian forces to do in Somalia. We can live in peace without any problems. We can form our own forces, and the UN forces can replace the Ethiopian forces in [ Somalia] and the Ethiopian forces will remain with us."
Asked how long this take will, Yusuf says that it depends on the dispatch and deployment of UN forces in Somalia.
When asked which neighboring countries are helping Somalia and which ones are hampering its efforts, Yusuf says that all neighboring countries, particularly Ethiopia, Yemen, Kenya, Uganda, Burundi, Rwanda, and Tanzania, are helping Somalia.
Al-Badri says: "But not Eritrea?" Yusuf says Eritrea is the friend of Al-Jazirah and its friends.
Al-Badri says: "Then you believe Eritrea intervenes in your affairs?" Yusuf says that Eritrea is playing a negative role even though Somalia had helped it achieve independence. He stresses that Eritrea has betrayed the Somali people and that he is certain it will regret it.
Asked about the nature of the conflict between Yusuf and the opposition, Yusuf says that in 1992, he was a military commander and he defended districts from eastern to central Somalia. He adds that the "alleged Islamic [Courts] Union staged a coup against the government" in his area. He talks about the clashes that ensued, which resulted in the defeat of the union and its withdrawal to the southern areas. He adds that those people are now leading the Al-Muqawamah, the Islamic Courts, and others. He stresses that they are affiliated with Al-Qa'ida.
Al-Badri thanks his guest and concludes the interview.