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Assistant Secretary of State Jendayi Frazer Interview with VOA


Q. Madame Secretary, thank you for joining us and for your willingness to discuss some very difficult issues in the Horn of Africa. In the last few days we have seen media reports about a mounting humanitarian crisis in Somalia. This has been off the international radar screen to some extent and also dwarfed to some extent by the attention that is given to Darfur. Could you talk about the humanitarian crisis in Somalia and some of its origins and also how the international community can try to deal with it?

A. Certainly there is indeed a humanitarian crisis in Somalia. We have seen the impact of the civil conflict and particularly when you asked the origin, the mounting violence since October 27 is of grave concern to the United States and we will continue to try to assist the Somali people. But the most important thing is that all parties involved in this conflict have a responsibility to protect civilians. So we want to send a message very clearly to the Transitional Federal Government, the Ethiopian forces and all other forces there that there is a need to protect civilians because they are the ones who are bearing the brunt of this conflict.

We also want to emphasize the need for humanitarian access, especially again the Transitional Federal Government to allow that humanitarian access. The United States is providing about $120 million from fiscal year 2006-2007 and we will continue to support the Somali people through many of our partners: the World Food Program, WorldVision and Care and other non-governmental organizations that are operating in Somalia. So there is a grave humanitarian situation and there is a responsibility of all parties in Somalia to protect civilians.

Q. We talked on this same issue several months ago and there was a measure of optimism about the situation in Somalia. The Ethiopians had come in at the end of last year, the transitional institutions had moved from Baidoa to Mogadishu and again, it seemed to be a hopeful point. What happened in the ensuing months; we’ve gone back to a crisis situation.

A. The optimism is based on the fact that there is a road map that would lead to a transition that would lead to a transition from the Federal Transitional institutions to an elected government in 2009. So it is very clear that there is a process in place. The Transitional Federal Charter lays out that process. What needs to happen, however, is the political dialogue, the reconciliation, the inclusiveness of the Transitional Federal Government is realized and I think that in some ways there has been progress: there was the reconciliation congress, it laid out some very good recommendations, I think that the new appointment of a prime minister creates new hope for a more inclusive government and not just the appointment of a prime minister but the fact that the parliament took the decision to allow new cabinet ministers to come into this government, that they don’t have to be members of parliament to become members of the government. So that gives another opportunity to become a more and more inclusive government.

But essentially what happened is that you have extremists and insurgents who are not willing to become part of the process of political dialogue. They are operating through violence and that is a problem. We are continuing to hold out our hand as an international community and as the United States we are urging the Transitional Federal Government also to continue to allow for all elements that are outside the government, all elements that are part of opposition that renounce violence to be part of a dialogue, a political process, rather than use of violence. But since October 27th we see an increase in violence and it is primarily based on extremists, but it is also the reaction of the Ethiopian and Transitional Federal Government forces to that extremist violence that is problematic.

Q. What about the future of international troop presence in Somalia. At the beginning of this year it was thought that the Ethiopians would wrap things up and that an 8000-member U.N.-sanctioned international force would come in. But very little has happened. What is the problem there?

A. Well we have, at least, the Ugandan forces have gone in, 1600 or so Ugandan forces, and the United States have provided about $19 million to the AMISOM force. We are also in the process of training Burundians. The Burundian president has said repeatedly that he would send forces to AMISOM and so we are training them and we hope some of them will be deployed sometime this month. We are also reaching out to other African countries, Nigeria and Ghana and others who have said they would send troops and the United States is prepared to assist them in deployment, the training and in the provision of those forces. And so we are looking for 8000, we are nowhere near 8000, but we do have new forces on the way and that is the condition under which the Ethiopians can withdraw. The more forces we get there the more likely the Ethiopian forces will be able to withdraw. We are hoping, in fact, that the U.N. will be able to play a role. We know that Ban Ki Moon has recently called for a “coalition of the willing” or a multinational force. We think that that is fine but it is also necessary for the U.N. to continue to be planning for a U.N. operation as well.

Q. The United Nations has said in the last few days that it is too dangerous in Somalia even to send in what is essentially a survey team for more forces. Is the United States unhappy with the United Nations response thus far?

A. Well, the United Nations response is understandable. It is very dangerous, particularly in Mogadishu and it is very dangerous, extremists are continuing to make the place ungovernable. That said, it is the (Security) Council’s decision where U.N. peacekeepers will go and I think the Council has spoken very clearly to the U.N. Secretariat, saying continue your contingency planning so that when conditions are right we can have a U.N.-sanctioned force in Somalia. So we will continue to do all that we can to build the AMISON force. We will continue to look for other forces in a coalition of the willing or a multinational force, but we must insist that the U.N. also continue its work. Because after all the U.N. is there for international peace and security in Somalia as well as the rest of the world. They cannot leave Somalia out.

Q. Are elements of the former Islamic Courts movement really the most guilty party in this violence or are there other factors?

A. The problem with the Islamic Courts Union was that it was a heterogeneous movement or group and certainly there are elements within it that are more moderate, there are elements within it that are more extremist. The El Shabab militia that was associated with the Islamic Courts Union is the one that is responsible for much of the violence within Mogadishu today. That’s the extremists who are seeking a violent outcome rather than a negotiated one between the TFG and the Islamic Courts Union. So it is difficult to talk about the Islamic Courts Union as if it is one body with one orientation. There are those within it that we still believe should be part of the political dialogue.

Q. Could you talk a little bit about Al Qaida elements that were said to be in the country earlier this year? There are reports that Eritrea might be harboring some of the more extreme figures from Somalia.

A. That’s true. We underestimated the number of foreign fighters who were in Somalia at the beginning of the year, from all over: from the Middle East, from Europe, from all over, even from America there were fighters in Somalia. So we underestimated. But that said, the emphasis has to be dialogue, creating the space. Unfortunately, the violence in Mogadishu is not allowing that dialogue to take place and that is where we have to place the emphasis. There are some who are sitting in Asmara who should be part of the dialogue. Again, as we said, renouncing of violence, the way forward is to have non-violent opposition, to have non-violent inclusive dialogue and reconciliation. That is the key. And so we are not discounting those who are in Asmara, that they should not be part of the process, they should be. But it is not going to happen through violence, it has to happen through people coming together in dialogue and reconciliation.

Q. The Somalia conflict has been described by some as a proxy struggle between Ethiopia and Eritrea and in the last several days, the United States has issued several public appeals to both countries to show restraint. Do you see a new Ethiopia-Eritrea conflict looming, or possible?

A. Not exactly. We have seen the deployment of forces on the border between Ethiopia and Eritrea and that creates tremendous concern about miscalculation. But I think it’s neither in the interests of Ethiopia or Eritrea to go back to war. So the main concern is that we clearly state that they need to resolve their problems, particularly on that border through diplomacy, through the U.N. process that’s underway. So we are very much backing the United Nations that is trying to resolve the border conflict and we certainly do support the U.N. boundary commission, the Eritrea-Ethiopia boundary commission on the work that it did on delimitation. That border needs to be demarcated and that demarcation is going to require dialogue between the two, so diplomacy and dialogue are necessary.

As far as Somalia being considered a proxy, being treated as a proxy in the conflict between the two countries, I think that its beyond Eritrea’s conflict with Ethiopia, Eritrea also provides assistance to rebels in Darfur and so I think they are trying to increase their presence in the Horn of Africa, their influence in the Horn of Africa, by funding and supporting insurgents and in the case of Somalia they have gone beyond insurgents to also supporting terrorists. They are also supporting insurgent groups in Ethiopia. So instead of going to dialogue they are in fact trying to destabilize countries. So I think Eritrea is playing a very negative role. But I think Somalia has to be treated independent and it is for the Somalis themselves to come together. This is something that the Secretary General’s special representative (Ahmedou) Ould Abdallah said. He said, “where are the Somali patriots,” the Somali people, where are the moderate voices within Somalia to isolate the extremists and to have a legitimate opposition? Either join the Transitional Federal Government or be in opposition to it, but do it as part of a political process, that is the key.

Q. Getting back to Eritrea. There had been some discussion that the United States might actually list Eritrea as a state sponsor of terrorism. It that still an active issue?

A. Yes it certainly is. We are still deliberating it. As I said many times before, we are putting together the case. When we make a judgment we take it very seriously. To be a state sponsor of terror, it is a very small group of countries that are on that list, so we take it very seriously before we would put a country on the state sponsor of terror list so we are gathering all the evidence to make that determination.

Q. What is the state of U.S. dialogue with Eritrea?

A. We have an ambassador who is going out. Eritrea has an ambassador here. We meet regularly with the Eritrean ambassador, so there is dialogue through official channels.

Q. Is there a good guy or a bad guy, going back to the border dispute? In news reports this week it was the Eritreans saying it was Ethiopia that has refused to implement the proposals to demarcate the border. Is there a high ground otherwise on this issue?

A. No there’s not. There’s a difficult situation between them. You basically have a border that has a delimitation that has been done. That delimitation gives certain territory to Ethiopia and certain territory to Eritrea. You need to have dialogue especially with the local communities about how that demarcation is going to take place, but demarcation needs to happen. So no, there is not a good guy or a bad guy in this situation, there is a need for dialogue to get the demarcation concluded.

Q. Madame Secretary, thank you very much for your time.

A. Thank you very much.