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Somali Militias Consider Alternatives to Fighting


Somalia's prime minister is in the capital, Mogadishu, to assess whether it is safe for his newly formed Cabinet to relocate there from Kenya, where the provisional government currently has its base. Cathy Majtenyi accompanied the government delegation to Somalia, and found efforts under way in Mogadishu to convince rebel factions to lay down arms and work toward peaceful reconciliation.

Sitting at a long table in an air-conditioned hotel in downtown Mogadishu this week were several dozen young men, who last encountered each other down the barrels of guns.

But, now, these members of two rival militias and their offshoots, are attending a seminar on conflict resolution.

Jabril Abdulle is co-director of the Mogadishu-based Center for Research and Dialogue, which organized the seminar.

"We brought them together here to train them how to resolve conflict and the importance of maintaining and consolidating peace," he said. "I think, if they decide to go on and consolidate the peace, it will have enormous impact. You have one side of the city of their militia coming together and forming some sort of structure to maintain rule of law, and also to talk about what happened (for) 14 years, well, 15 years right now, and, now, learn how to manage conflict."

Mr. Jabril explains that part of the training involves showing the militiamen graphic footage of killings and rapes, so they can see what they have done through their warfare, and also footage of Mogadishu taken before the war to show what the city could be.

The transitional government was formed after two years of a peace process in Nairobi that brought together factional leaders, elders, civil society representatives, and others to work out how to end almost 15 years of war.

Somali Prime Minister Ali Mohamed Gedi
Most everyone, from officials accompanying Prime Minister Ali Mohamed Gedi to people on the street, say Somalis are tired of war, and want the new government, currently based in Kenya, to come back to restore order and stability.

The costs of war are high. Mr. Jabril says a study his organization commissioned one and a half years ago found that the cost for 50 militiamen to fight for six hours in Mogadishu was more than $100,000.

He explains that most militiamen end up selling ammunition at the market to make ends meet, because many are underpaid or not paid at all.

In contrast, says Mr. Jabril, peace could bring high dividends, and he had business leaders explain what those are to the participants in his conflict resolution seminar.

"Business leaders will be coming [to the seminar]," Mr. Jabril said. "People who are running businesses of $12 million, $15 million will be coming to them, and telling them that the part of (the) city that we did not invest (in) over the last 15 years, we're now ready to invest, if you keep the peace."

One seminar participant, Mohammed Ali Rainow, tells VOA he came to the seminar as a result of the reconciliation between the militias and a desire for a better life.

Mr. Mohammed says life will not be meaningful without reconciliation. He says he thinks he and others could achieve a lot for themselves and their country.

The same message of prosperity was conveyed at a recent demobilization workshop for several thousand militiamen as part of a security plan drawn up in March. It was sponsored by a group of parliamentarians currently staying in Mogadishu The member of Parliament for Kismayo, Ali Basha, describes what was discussed.

"We explained that we have a better life for them than staying in a checkpoint," Mr. Basha said. "The better life that we told them that we have for them is that they will be members of the future Somali armed forces. They will be trained like carpenters, like mechanics, like welders, and they are ready. They are calling us, they are coming to our hotel asking us, 'when are we going to the (training) camps?'"

But the challenges of demobilization are great. At the workshop's closing ceremony, Kenya's regional cooperation assistant minister, Joseph Nyagah, urged the audience and the country's estimated 53,000 militiamen to forgive each other, and, "put your pride and selfishness in your pocket."

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