LINDA WERTHEIMER, Host:
Mogadishu seems calm today after a spasm of violence following the collapse of the Islamic-led force that it controlled the Somali capital since June. Yesterday, forces aligned with a transitional government entered Mogadishu with the help of the Ethiopian military. The prime minister also entered the city and received a mixed reception. The big question now is whether the transitional government can bring the city under control.
NPR's Gwen Thompkins has just arrived in Mogadishu. Gwen, can the transitional government control that city?
GWEN THOMPKINS, Host:
Well, that certainly remains to be seen. You know, the transitional government's first priority in Mogadishu and elsewhere is to pacify the place. That means to disarm the people who are there who might be hostile to the government. And in Mogadishu there are plenty of them.
Mogadishu had never liked the transitional government, even before the Islamic Courts Union showed up. And that's in large part because Mogadishu has been run by warlords, and they have made a lot of money running that town. And now that the Islamic Courts are gone, there's a real concern here that the warlords are going to try to reassert themselves and take the city.
WERTHEIMER: Gwen, earlier today you were in a town called Afgooye, where the president and prime minister were meeting at a sort of extraordinary setting. Could you talk about what happened?
THOMPKINS: Sure. Afgoye is about 20 miles outside of Mogadishu. And it's a strange little town. I'm not quite sure I ever saw the town because, well, there's just really not that much to see. There are a couple of rocks on the pavement there. You get out of your car, you walk off the road about a hundred yards in the sand, and then under the canopy of a very beautiful old acacia tree, there was the president of the transitional government sitting next to the prime minister, sitting next to the cabinet members. And then they were all talking with representatives from Mogadishu. Some of the representatives were representatives of the clans that are here. Some of the representatives were from women's groups who were underrepresented during the Islamic Courts Union's reign in Mogadishu. Others were religious leaders.
And they were all sitting there, trying to hatch a plan to take Mogadishu. And if they succeed, then that little conclave under the acacia tree could be the continental congress of Somalia. It was extraordinary because half of the people who spoke were very adamant, urging the government to go in and take Mogadishu by force, to disarm the 3,000 people here who have guns and who are hostile to the transitional government. And then the other half of the people who spoke said no, you need more negotiation, you need to build trust and ties with the people of Mogadishu.
One of the biggest overarching issues that the group discussed was the presence of Ethiopian forces. Now, the Ethiopians, for their own reasons, have helped the transitional government get this far militarily. Ethiopia has always felt threatened by the Islamic Courts Union, declared war on the Islamic Courts Union last weekend. And with their firepower, their training and their ground troops, they've really broke the back of the Islamic Courts Union militarily.
But that has been a very controversial presence in this country because the people of Mogadishu don't know how they feel about the Ethiopians. A lot of them want them gone, and they want them gone now.
WERTHEIMER: NPR's Gwen Thompkins reporting from Mogadishu. Gwen, thank you so much.
THOMPKINS: Thank you, Linda.
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