Somalia's Gedi Returns to Capital in Armed Convoy
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
And I'm Melissa Block.
The civil war in Somalia may be coming to an end or maybe not. Islamist forces have retreated from their headquarters in the capital city, Mogadishu, but they're now believed to be occupying the city of Kismayu and surrounding areas. The prime minister of Somalia's transitional government made a triumphant entrance into Mogadishu today, but he was greeted by stones along with cheers.
NPR's Gwen Thompkins reports from Baidoa, which has been the seat of the transitional government.
GWEN THOMPKINS: If Somalia were a baseball team, there would be an asterisk by its name. Somalia is a sovereign nation but has not had a permanent government for the past 15 years. Somalia has been in a civil war for the past ten days, and one side says it's fighting foreign terrorists and the other side says it's fighting neighboring Ethiopia.
And today, Somalia is in the hands of that nation's transitional government. Except for the areas where it isn't. Take if from Abdullahi Yusuf. He's the president, not the prime minister, of the transitional government and he's been tracking where the hardcore Islamists are headed.
President ABDULLAHI YUSUF (Somalia): (Through Translator) They went to Jubaland. It's an entire region. Kismayu is only the city. But it's a vast region of land and they are all over that place. Those who went there are the remnants of the so-called Islamic Courts Union. They might be trying to reorganize themselves or make insurgents out there but we are going to go there and confront them.
THOMPKINS: President Yusuf spoke today from the government seat here at Baidoa, a dusty, rickety stop on the map that's more than a watering hole but less than a city. Cows share the road with four-by-fours, donkeys and the occasional goat, and the only flare to be found is when a woman walks by wearing a purple shedoar with white polka dots.
At night, Baidoa sounds as if it's hardly here at all.
(Soundbite of crickets)
THOMPKINS: After two years in the shadows here in Baidoa, the government has its best chance yet of really governing Somalia.
Mr. ABDIRAHMAN DINARI: We believe God and our population and our friends.
THOMPKINS: That's Abdirahman Dinari. He's been the government's spokesman for as long as they've needed one. He ticked off their new priorities.
Mr. DINARI: The first one is to restore security. The second thing is disarm the militias, Somali militias. The third is to implement and establish district administrations and regional administrations.
THOMPKINS: A military victory over a divided land? Disarming militias? Restoring security? Doesn't that sound familiar? Somalia's leaders don't like their country being compared to a place like Iraq and just about every day, including today, they say so. Here's President Yusuf again.
President YUSUF: (Through Translator) Somalia is not going to go the Iraq way, primarily because Somalia is not Iraq. Those who were opposing us and who were waging the war against us, the so-called Islamic Courts Union, has disintegrated and they are out of the (unintelligible) of the country.
THOMPKINS: But the Islamic Courts Union has already made its mark on many Somalis. Look at Omar Abdullarahan Omar(ph), a 15-year-old boy from Mogadishu. Slim shouldered and soft-spoken, he looks like a sun-kissed version of a young Leonardo diCaprio. Omar was kidnapped by the Islamic Courts last week, given an AK-47 and told he was part of a holy war. Today, he waits for his parents to pick him up from Baidoa.
Mr. OMAR ABDULLARAHAN OMAR: (Speaking foreign language)
THOMPKINS: After this experience, he said, I'm no longer a boy. I'm a man. I'm ready to act like a man.
Gwen Thompkins, NPR News, Baidoa.
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