Somali Government Returns to Capital

The official Somali government returned to the capital of Mogadishu Friday. Ethiopian troops ousted Islamic forces that had controlled the city since this summer. Madeleine Brand talks with Associated Press reporter Les Neuhaus from Mogadishu about the current situation in the capital.

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NOAH ADAMS, host:

From the studios of NPR West, this is DAY TO DAY. I'm Noah Adams.

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

And I'm Madeleine Brand. We're going to focus on Somalia in this part of the program, which has seen a week of violence and political upheaval. Islamic forces are on the run after the Ethiopian military moved in with the tacit approval of the United States. The U.S. feared Somalia could become a haven for al-Qaida.

ADAMS: In a moment, we'll look at the U.S. role in Somalia and in the region. We'll also examine the term Islamist, which has been used to describe the Somali Islamic fighters. First, the latest developments from Somalia.

BRAND: Government forces made a triumphant return to the capital of Mogadishu today. Prime Minister Ali Mohammed Ghedi rode through the city in a well-armed convoy. This comes a day after the Ethiopian military defeated the forces of the Islamic Courts Movement that had controlled the city for months.

Joining us now is Les Neuhaus, reporting from Mogadishu for the Associated Press. And I understand you are reporting close to the prime minister's convoy there in Mogadishu?

Mr. LES NEUHAUS (Associated Press): He is just about 50 feet from me. And myself and some other journalists are speaking to people here on the streets of Mogadishu.

BRAND: And what are they telling you?

Mr. NEUHAUS: For example, Sheik Abdullahi(ph), a teacher, is 36 years old. He says after 16 years, we have never seen a stable government, and we hope that this government will restore peace. Our health, education and other social services are totally collapsed. And we expect the government to restore peace, otherwise this will be another failure. So there seems to be mild jubilation here amongst many people. But then some skepticism amongst the crowds.

BRAND: Right, because they have been in a country that has been without a formal government for about 15 years.

Mr. NEUHAUS: Yes, 16 years. And in that time, there have been 14 attempts to get governments. And finally this one seems to be making some progress, even though it is questionable recently. But this is a big victory for the transitional federal government.

BRAND: Well in the meantime, Ethiopian troops are there keeping the peace, but they're not going to be there for long. So what's going to happen when they leave?

Mr. NEUHAUS: No. I did have the opportunity to ask the prime minister how long they would be here. And he said quote, "They will stay until we agree to send them back to their country, and this depends on the stability of Somalia." And you know, just this past week, at a press conference that I was at in Addis Ababa, Prime Minister Meles Zenawi said that they would not go to Kisimayu. They would not go to Mogadishu. But currently, the troops are here in Mogadishu. They are at the - there are tanks at the airports, here in the international airport, which was restored by the Islamic Courts. And they're also at the ports, which was also reopened by the Islamic Courts.

BRAND: The Islamic Courts fighters have retreated. They've gone out into the countryside. How concerned are people that they could basically begin an Iraq-style insurgency and begin a guerilla war?

Mr. NEUHAUS: That's been a topic of debate in the region as of late, especially in Ethiopia where, you know, the Islamic Courts said that they are going to attempt suicide bombings and these types of things, which are not necessarily endemic to fighting in the Horn of Africa. But people are nervous a little bit. At this time, the Islamic Court leadership is in the southern port city of Kisimayu, which is more than a hundred kilometers south of Mogadishu.

And then there are also reports that Hosan Turkey(ph) and another gentlemen with the last name Iro(ph) are on an island called Ras Kiyemboni - both of these gentlemen and have been labeled with al-Qaida associates by U.S. State Department Deputy Secretary of State for African Affairs Jendayi Fraser.

Some people here are a little worried. But you know, this city has seen so much volatility over the years that I think they are a little bit numbed, also. There is excitement here right now. This could be a new change of direction for Mogadishu and the country, obviously. But people are kind of waiting to see what happens over the next, you know, short period.

BRAND: Les Neuhaus of the Associated Press, joining us from Mogadishu. Thank you very much, Les.

Mr. NEUHAUS: Thanks so much.

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