Somali foes agree to truce

Mark Huband in Mogadishu

The Guardian, 12 December 1992


AMERICAN pressure yesterday forced the leaders of Somalia’s two main warring factions to agree to a ceasefire, nearly two years after the split in their armed movement led to civil war and famine in which half a million lost their lives.

“We ask the Americans and the United Nations to disarm the Somali people because if you do not disarm, peace will not come back in this country,” the interim president, Ali Mahdi Mohammed, said after meeting his arch-rival, General Mohammed Farah Aideed.

Five United States marine tanks and five armoured jeeps were used to bring Mr All Mahdi through the worst war-torn areas of the capital to the meeting, which was held in territory under Gen Aideed’s control.

After three hours of talks – chaired by the US ambassador, Robert Oakley, in the presence of the US operation commander and the United Nations envoy, Ismat Kitani – the two rival leaders of the United Somali Congress emerged to announce an end to hostilities and a commitment to reunite their forces.

They also agreed to end the division of the capital into rival territories within 48 hours.

Relief agencies welcomed the accord. The international agency Care planned to send UN trucks carrying 50 tonnes of food under US military escort into north Mogadishu today, across the shattered city’s green line. Gunmen previously regularly looted such convoys.

In other parts of the country, fighting and banditry continued. The Pentagon said yesterday an unspecified number of relief workers had been taken hostage in Kismayo, south-west of the Somali capital, and that clashes between clans continued in Baidoa.

The seven-point communiqué committed Mr Ali Mahdi and Gen Aideed to move their menand their “Mad Max” open-backed gun wagons to designated areas outside Mogadishu.

“We call upon all Somalis throughout the country to seriously engage in a cessation of hostilities and join with us for the peace and unity of Somalia,” the statement said.

If the reunification of the congress holds, it will again be the most powerful military force in Somalia’s splintered political landscape, at a time when it is still fighting an army led by troops from the Marehan clan of the former Somali dictator, Mohammed Siad Barre, America’s firm ally who was ousted by congress rebels in January 1991.

The tough military stance, which is permitted under the UN resolution allowing the use of force, has led to French and US troops seizing scores of weapons, and the deaths of some Somalis who have refused to stop at checkpoints. But it suits the faction leaders.

Gen Aideed lost his base in the town of Bardera two months ago to the forces of Gen Sayeed Hersi Morgan, who is Barre’s son-in-law, and he has since been effectively trapped in Mogadishu.

Mr Ali Mahdi’s alliance includes Gen Morgan, who is still regarded as an ally. “This is one of the major hurdles to reconciliation with Aideed. We are still not really decided who is in charge of the USC now it has united,” a close ally of Mr Ali Mahdi said yesterday.

Meanwhile, a source close to Gen Aideed said the faction leader would never accept Gen Morgan’s Somali National Front as a political factor, but only as a clan whose elders could speak for it.

© Guardian Newspapers Limited