IRIN interview: United Somali Congress/Somali Salvation Alliance (USC/SSA)leader Ali Mahdi Mohamed

Ali Mahdi Mohamed, leader of the USC/SSA, controls North Mogadishu but is currently being challenged by his former vice president Musa Sude Yallahow. His is co-chairman of the newly-established Benadir Administration with Hussein Aideed.

The following are extracts from an interview with Ali Mahdi Mohamed at his headquarters in former government offices in North Mogadishu - April 1999

QUESTION: This is the first time you and Hussein Aideed have written a joint letter as a national protest against an Ethiopian incursion.

ANSWER: The Ethiopian military have invaded Somalia territory, disarmed people and destroyed property. They have also armed some parts of the community. This creates a lot of problems. We are sorry they are in Somalia, and were certainly not expecting it. Ethiopia, after all, has the IGAD [Inter-Governmental Authority on Development] mandate to mediate in Somali peace talks, so instead of interfering and arming people, they
should take their role seriously. We firmly condemn it. The first time it happened was in 1996, this is the third time - and this time we want to fully alert the OAU, UN, the Arab League and IGAD. We have spoken to Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi about it, and the foreign minister Seyoum Mesfin. They apologised but said it was necessary, and claimed there were problems with militia in that area. They withdrew, but now they
are doing it again. Yes, this is the first time we have issued a joint letter to international bodies. Before we just talked through the Ethiopian ministries, but now we feel stronger action is needed.

Q: But there is a problem with an armed Islamic fundamentalist group, Al-Ittihad, on this border?

A: I think Al-Ittihad is an excuse. Al-Ittihad has been destroyed and run out of that area. It no longer operates in Gedo, and does not have a military base there. They have been run out of southern Somalia because we condemn them too. In Somalia we are Sunni, not extremists. So we too are against them.

Q: So why do you think Ethiopia took military action?

A: I think Ethiopia has more or less failed in its mediation attempts in Somalia and doesn't like what has been achieved by Cairo. Ethiopia wants to create new politicians - its own politicians - here. It wants to retain some control.

Q: It is not just Ethiopia that shows concern about Somalia being used as a base for extremism and terrorism. What about the rumours that Osama bin Laden is using Somalia - do you think that has any credibility?

A: It would not be a surprise if bin Laden was thinking of coming here or any other terrorist. There are no border or airport controls so it is easy - and I have told this to the Americans. If the international community does not help us settle the problem and help us get a government, then it
is a problem. Somalia will be a cover for terrorists. In Lugh, for a while, we did have a real problem with Al-Ittihad. Now, bin Laden can come anytime without asking anyone - it wouldn't surprise me. If there is no government and no control - well, Somalia is abandoned, and it is the responsibility of the international community to do something about it.
This disease can spread to the Horn of Africa.

Q: On the theme of neighbouring countries and insecurity, Eritrea is said to be supplying weapons to certain factions in Somalia.

A: I think that is only a rumour about Eritrea sending arms. We don't have any evidence and we do not accept that rumour. But the Ethiopian-Eritrea war worries us because it is a war in front of our own gate - it can affect the whole region...

Q: While there was some progress with the Benadir Administration, it has now been disrupted by Musa Sude Yallahow. His challenge to the administration included destroying the governor's house. This is a very serious setback, isn't it?

A: Musa Sude and Osman Ato don't have enough militia to stop the
administration. But it is true that the administration has not succeeded in fulfilling its plans. Three thousand police were given only two months of salary, which was supplied by Libya. Libya gave money and rations. When that stopped, the administration was unable to pay the police salaries, and so we are no longer in a position to deploy them. With this lack of funding, we have to depend on private resources. Egypt only gave uniforms and medicine and food to help. So now we are appealing to the European Union.

Q: How do you fund the Administration?

A: When we saw that the international community had no intention of helping we called on businessmen inside and outside to at least pay salaries and provide food and assistance. Our main preoccupation is the police, the prisons and the courts. The courts are not working at the moment.

Q: How do you see the international effort in Somalia - it has been extremely difficult for expatriates to work in Somalia, hasn't it?

A: The US sent a huge military force here and spent some three billion dollars, but it was all without any political programme. They just came without knowing what the next step in Somalia should be. So they succeeded only on a short term humanitarian basis - they helped stop the famine. In terms of everything else, it was a failure, without direction. We have been abandoned for nine years, but it is their responsibility to get
security and reconciliation in Somalia.

Q: Isn't it the responsibility of the faction leaders to reconcile themselves?

A: How can I do it? I have no authority to do it. I am not the olice, I am not a recognised authority, I can't stop people killing each other - I can't even stop one man killing another man in the street outside my office! So how can a leader like me have responsibility to reconcile? We need structures of government and we need help to organise reconciliation
conferences to establish an authority that is recognised and supported. Then we can start reconstructing.

Q: But you have made progress since the US and UN pulled out?

A: After the Cairo agreement a lot of things changed. The two leaders of Mogadishu reconciled, united and now act with a common view. Hargeisa and Bosasso are both doing well. I have stated many times that I personally will accept any person properly elected or chosen to run the country, even
if it was not me.