Ethiopian Troops to Help Keep Peace in Somalia

A fragile stability has taken hold in the Somali capital of Mogadishu. The government, backed by Ethiopian troops, has ousted Islamic fighters from the city. Ethiopian troops plan to stay in Somalia to help maintain the relative calm, and the government has given residents three days to turn in weapons.

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ALEX CHADWICK, host:

One of the world's most feared and lawless cities is today functioning again normally, but normal only in Mogadishu, Somalia. For years, Islamic militias ran most of Somalia until they were defeated just days ago by Somali government soldiers and the Ethiopian troops who supported them. Now, in Mogadishu, markets are busy again, especially the gun market.

NPR's Gwen Thompkins is there. Gwen, the government says everybody has to turn in their guns within three days. What is happening?

GWEN THOMPKINS: Absolutely nothing is happening, Alex. I went over to the two places today where people are supposed to come with their weapons. One of them is called Villa Bidoa. I saw a truck full of Ethiopian soldiers and Somali soldiers on foot, and most of them were snacking on bananas and watermelon slices, waiting for someone to show up to throw in a gun.

And I think that they're going to have to wait for a long time, because no one seems to be interested in showing up right now.

The second place where you're supposed to hand in your guns is at the old seaport, and, boy, there were even fewer people there. I think I saw three goats and a shepherdess.

CHADWICK: So where are the guns?

THOMPKINS: I think that from what I'm hearing, the guns are under people's beds and in their closets and probably hidden somewhere in their yards or nearby. At this point, people are hedging their bets. They don't really know what's going to happen next or whether the transitional government is going to be around for much longer, so they are very reluctant to turn over their weapons in a place that you've described as a place of anarchy over the last several years.

So they're also - and this is something that is actually important to recognize - you know, the people here are also very suspicious of having Ethiopian troops in Mogadishu, and the last thing that Somalis- who have had, you know, quite a long-standing resentment against Ethiopians - the last thing that they want to do is hand over their weapons to an Ethiopian.

CHADWICK: On MORNING EDITION today, I think you mentioned something about an active gun market that has nothing to do with turning in your weapons. People are selling them.

THOMPKINS: Instead of handing their guns over to the government for free, people seem to want to sell their guns right now. So the market is flooded. There are lots of guns. Everyone wants to sell. You know, why give it away for free, you know, when you can sell it? And so the price for guns has really dropped.

CHADWICK: You know, I use this term Somali government soldiers. Is there actually a Somali government there?

THOMPKINS: Well, that's an excellent question. I mean, right now what Somalia has for a government is a transitional government that is internationally recognized, that has been together for the past two years, but that has been, you know, fairly ineffective over this two-year period. And, you know, their forces have, you know, have been bolstered by Ethiopian troops who really have been pivotal in winning what's been won and getting the transitional government as far as its gotten.

CHADWICK: Well, Gwen, how long does Ethiopia plan to keep its soldiers in Somalia?

THOMPKINS: You know, that's a question that Somalis are asking themselves and each other and anyone else they can find everyday. Now the Ethiopian prime minister, Meles Zenawi, he says that he doesn't want his troops in Somalia for much longer. He says maybe three weeks, tops. He told us last week he'd rather have them out in a series of days. He's not interested in nation-building, he says.

But the one thing that he did - one caveat that he did add was that he would not let Mogadishu burn.

CHADWICK: So what is the kind of sense in Mogadishu there? Does it feel like this is a city that might burn in the next week or next month, or how are people feeling about this enormous change that's happened?

THOMPKINS: People have no idea what's going to happen next. They are, you know, for many of them, they've got one foot out the door. They've got one hand under the beds reaching for the AK-47 or the Russian made PKM. You know, they really have no idea what's going to happen tomorrow.

CHADWICK: NPR's Gwen Thompkins, reporting from Mogadishu, Somalia. Gwen, thank you.

THOMPKINS: Thank you, Alex.

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