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New Mogadishu Mayor Tells VOA His Priority is Making the Capital Safe

The new mayor of Somalia's troubled capital says he has implemented tough measures to help secure Mogadishu and is appealing for international help to restore badly-needed services. Mohamed Dheere spoke to VOA Correspondent Alisha Ryu in Mogadishu. It was Dheere's first interview with a western journalist since the former factional leader was named to the post four days ago.

Mohamed Omar Habeb, better known as Mohamed Dheere, says his first priority as mayor is making Mogadishu a safer place for residents. He says every effort is being made to crack down on what he calls terrorism and banditry in the capital.

Dheere says as part of tightened security, unregistered weapons are now strictly prohibited in the city and vehicles with tinted windows will be barred from the streets. He says 500 policemen are patrolling on foot and in vehicles throughout Mogadishu, enforcing the law.

The new mayor says he is also working with private businessmen to restore electricity and water service as quickly as possible.

Without a functioning government to provide basic services, much of Somalia has relied on private businesses for the past 16 years to keep the electricity on and water flowing in the capital.

When fierce fighting earlier this year between Ethiopian troops and anti-government, anti-Ethiopian insurgents dragged on for months, many businessmen shut their grids and pumps and fled.

Mohamed Dheere says he is trying to encourage businessmen to return and form a cooperative to provide electricity and water to everyone in Mogadishu, not just to certain paying neighborhoods.

There are other serious issues needing immediate attention, such as the city's enormous sanitation problem. But the mayor says Somalia's interim government cannot address them properly without financial help from the international community.

"We need the international community to help us rebuild our country," Dheere says. But he acknowledges that he first needs to convince international aid agencies that Mogadishu is a safe place to work.

As the ruler of Jowhar, the provincial capital of the middle Shabelle region in south-central Somalia during the first half of this decade, Mohamed Dheere has experience in running a major town. People in Jowhar credit Dheere with maintaining stability and peace during his tenure there as governor.

But others in Mogadishu are skeptical of Dheere's pledge to bring order. Critics of the security crackdown say arrests are likely to be arbitrary, and the accused may have little or no access to lawyers. Also, they say there are no functioning courts in Mogadishu to hold hearings and trials.

Dheere's appointment is seen as a dramatic turnaround for a man who is best known as a factional leader whose militia participated in the destruction of the city during 16 years of fighting between rival sub-clans.

Last year, he was one of several faction leaders, including Somalia's new police commissioner Abdi Qeybdid, who fought against Islamist forces as part of a U.S.-backed anti-terror alliance group.

Some residents accuse the interim government and its security forces of using the threat of terrorism as an excuse to silence critics and to confiscate private properties.

Mohamed Dheere says he has heard about the allegations and is looking into them.