Government Tries to Bring Elusive Order to Somalia

Somalia's transitional government is attempting again to bring order to the coastal African nation. Earlier this week, the transitional government, backed by Ethiopian forces, regained the capitol from the Islamic Courts Union. Debbie Elliott talks to Gwen Thompkins from the Somali capitol of Mogadishu.

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DEBBIE ELLIOTT, Host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Debbie Elliott.

This week Somalia's transitional government, with the help of Ethiopian forces, entered the capital, Mogadishu. Fighters from the Islamic Courts Union, which had ruled the city for months, fled south. Today, Somalia's transitional government announced plans to open a second front against the Islamic Courts Union in the seaport of Kismayu.

NPR's Gwen Thompkins is in Mogadishu and joins me now.

First of all, Gwen, what is the situation there in the capital today?

GWEN THOMPKINS: Well, I've only arrived just a short time ago, and I'm standing actually on the rooftop of the Peace Hotel, which used to be quite a favorite hangout for the Islamic Courts Union. And I have to say, it's been very quiet in Mogadishu from what I understand today.

And the scene out here is any Saturday night in any town in the world, actually. It's beautiful. There's a breeze. You can feel the Indian Ocean near you. The people here are celebrating Eid, which is a holiday on the Muslim calendar. There are children out who are playing. You wouldn't think right now that this is a city that is under contention, whose future is uncertain at this point.

ELLIOTT: You say that the city is still in contention?

THOMPKINS: Yes. It seems to be. Of course, yesterday the prime minister of the transitional government, Ali Mohamed Gedi, came into town in a triumphant mode. He was sort of like Charles De Gaulle coming down the Champs-Elysees. And he was greeted with a lot of cheers, but there are also people who threw stones at his convoy, which suggests that people here are divided over the role the transitional government in their lives.

Mogadishu has never liked the transitional government, even before the Islamic Courts Union took over Mogadishu. This is a town that's been hostile to that government. In fact, the prime minister came twice last year and there were two assassination attempts against him. Right now the government is trying to figure out how best to cozy up to Mogadishu and also how best to disarm her, because when the Islamic Courts Union fled the city last week, they reportedly opened their armories and gave their weapons to two of the most powerful and hostile thug clans in Mogadishu.

ELLIOTT: Hostile to the government there, to the transitional government?

THOMPKINS: Absolutely. Absolutely. Yes. I mean, in fact, the government estimates that there are 2,000, perhaps even more than 2,000 people who are heavily armed here, who are hostile to their intentions.

ELLIOTT: Now, Gwen, the transitional government is also saying that it plans to move on Islamic Courts Union fighters in Kismayu. Are the Ethiopians expected to help the government in that battle as well?

THOMPKINS: Yes, they are expected to do so. Ethiopia, which has been instrumental in getting the transitional government this far, has always said that it would hunt down and bring to justice the most radical elements of the Islamic Courts Union. And some of those elements are believed to be down in Kismayu right now. And in the Jubba River Valley region, ironically, this is the same area of Somalia that was heavily hit by flooding earlier this year, where there are an awful lot of displaced people, and where there's awful lot of trauma. So the idea of another crisis for a crisis-worn region within Somalia, it's very sad to anticipate.

ELLIOTT: NPR's Gwen Thompkins in Mogadishu, Somalia.

Thank you, Gwen.

THOMPKINS: Thank you.

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