Somali president:Stop support of warlords

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STOCKHOLM, Sweden (AP) – The leader of a U.N.-backed transitional government that is trying to assert control over Somalia said Wednesday he believes the United States is funding an alliance of warlords fighting radical Islamic militias in his country and should be working directly with his administration instead.

The United States has said only that American officials have met with a wide variety of Somali leaders to try to fight international terrorists in the country.

Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed told The Associated Press during a two-day visit to Stockholm that he believes Washington is supporting the warlords-turned-politicians as a way of fighting several top al-Qaida operatives who are being protected by radical clerics.

“They really think they can capture al-Qaida members in Somalia,” he said. “But the Americans should tell the warlords they should support the government, and cooperate with the government … We are the legitimate government, and we will help you fight terrorism.”

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said he did not know “the origin of these remarks in terms of what he has in mind.”

“Our interest is purely in seeing Somalia achieve a better day,” McCormack said. “It’s a real concern of ours, terror taking root in the Horn of Africa … We don’t want to see another safe haven for terrorists created.”

Somalia has not had an effective central government since clan-based warlords overthrew the government in 1991 and then began fighting each other.

A transitional government headed by Yusuf was formed in October 2004 but its members quickly split over what the government’s priorities were and where it should be located. It only controls a few cities and Yusuf spends much of his time out of the country.

The State Department said in March that the U.S. government was concerned about “al-Qaida fugitives responsible for the 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam (in Tanzania) and the November 2002 bombing of a tourist hotel and attack on a civilian airliner in Kenya, who are believed to be operating in and around Somalia.”

Several key warlords in the new government have formed an alliance with the stated aim of capturing al-Qaida members. The Alliance for the Restoration of Peace and Counterterrorism was formed after a fundamentalist Islamic group began asserting itself in the capital and portrayed itself as an alternative to warlords.

Fueling suspicion that the group is receiving outside aid, the alliance has become one of the most powerful militias in Somalia in a matter of months.

Residents of alliance-held areas report trucks arriving full of new weapons, and Somalis with connections to the alliance have said U.S. officials have frequently visited its leaders.

Yusuf said U.S. support for the warlords could undermine the government’s efforts to bring stability to the region.

“These groups, they really do not want Somalia to become a stabilized country,” he said. “They do not want the government to function.”

He said his government is committed to fighting terrorism, but that it can only be effective if it first gets help from the international community “to build the country up from scratch.”

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