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Somalia President Says He Wants More Control


Somalia's interim president has told officials he wants his interim government to tighten control over the country's politics, economy, and security. As VOA Correspondent Alisha Ryu reports from our East Africa Bureau in Nairobi, President Abdullahi Yusuf reserved his harshest criticisms for international aid groups and non-governmental organizations that he says are doing little to help the Somali people.

President Yusuf made the comments in a speech to a government budgetary and development planning session in the Somali town of Baidoa last Tuesday. In a transcript of the speech obtained by Voice of America, President Yusuf said it was time to limit private enterprise and put his transitional federal government in charge of all sectors, including education, social services, trade, and communications.

Since the fall of Somalia's last functioning government in 1991, key sectors of the country's economy and social services have been run by private companies and entrepreneurs.

He emphasized that government officials are to be involved in any and all activities taking place in Somalia, especially by international aid groups. He also told ministry officials to stop working with U.N. groups and non-governmental organizations that have not coordinated their activities through the interim government.

In the speech, Mr. Yusuf repeatedly criticized the U.N.'s World Food Program, accusing the agency of doing nothing to help the Somali people since the country's last functioning government was overthrown by factional leaders nearly 17 years ago.

For the past several months, government officials have frequently complained that some aid groups in Somalia were distributing food and other supplies to war-displaced people without the government's permission.

Last month, government security forces detained the director of the World Food Program in Somalia for nearly a week, accusing him of giving food to Islamic insurgents because the agency used local mosques instead of government ministries to distribute food aid in the capital Mogadishu and its outskirts.

In his speech, the president also criticized the head of U.N. humanitarian operations in Somalia, Eric Laroche, who has expressed alarm about Somalia's deepening humanitarian crisis. President Yusuf complained that during their recent meetings in Baidoa and in the Kenyan capital Nairobi, Laroche only wanted to discuss humanitarian issues and requested better access to some one-and-a-half million Somali civilians thought to be in dire need of assistance.

The president said he believed the talks should have focused on Somali politics and on ways to combat the Islamist-led insurgency in Mogadishu, which began nearly a year ago after Mr. Yusuf's internationally recognized-but-weak transitional government took power in Mogadishu from the Islamic Courts Union in an Ethiopia-led military offensive.

Some Somalis have expressed hope that the country's newly sworn-in Prime Minister Nur Adde Hassan Hussein will have the experience and the will to begin addressing Somalia's mounting problems. Mr. Hussein, a lawyer by training, is a veteran humanitarian chief and is also a former police colonel.

But his predecessor, Ali Mohamed Gedi, stepped down from office last month after a falling out with President Yusuf over control of Somalia's resources and infrastructure. And there are concerns that Mr. Hussein may be pressured to follow Mr. Yusuf's lead or risk being similarly ousted.

During the swearing-in ceremony Saturday, the new prime minister promised to work first toward reconciling the government with opposition groups and improving security.

The foreign affairs secretary of the exiled Islamic Courts Union, Sherif Hassan tells VOA that reconciliation talks will never take place while Ethiopian troops are still in Somalia.

"What we need is someone who can say loudly that Ethiopian troops should withdraw from Somali territory immediately," he said.

Ethiopia says it will withdraw its troops only when a full-strength African Union peacekeeping force is in place in Somalia. So far, only Uganda has contributed 1,600 of the 8,000 troops needed.

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