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Huseen Aideed Announces Run for Somalia Presidency - 2003-05-06

Somali warlord Huseen Aideed Tuesday declared his intention to run for the presidency of his war-torn country. His announcement comes as delegates at a reconciliation conference in Kenya are working to select an interim leader for Somalia.

Mr. Aideed, a former U.S. Marine and the son of the famous Somali warlord Mohamed Aideed, says he wants to become the first president of the re-united republic of Somalia.

Speaking to reporters in Nairobi Tuesday, he outlined his vision for Somalia.

"Once elected, I promise to lead our beloved country towards reconciliation, reconstruction and to build a Somali society based on the ideals of democracy, economic prosperity and social justice for all Somalis," he said. "I promise to build a society that respects and upholds the reality of the Somali culture and tradition."

Somalia has been without a central government since President Siad Barre was overthrown in 1991. It has since been ruled by various rival warlords whose ongoing power struggles have reduced the Somali people to extreme poverty, insecurity and occasionally famine.

Mr. Aideed is head of the Somali Reconciliation and Restoration Council, a powerful faction that controls much of southern Somalia. He was nominally president of Somalia from 1996 to 1997, but his government only controlled a small fraction of the country.

He is one of a half a dozen political leaders who are seeking the presidency of Somalia.

Meanwhile, after seven months of talks, the Somali Peace and Reconciliation Conference is about to enter its third and final phase.

In the coming weeks, almost 400 Somali delegates will choose a broad-based transitional government of national unity, leading to Somalia's first democratic elections since 1969. The conference, which is being held in Nairobi, is being sponsored by Somalia's neighbors under the Intergovernmental Authority on Development.

Most delegates want the new Somali state to be a federal one.

Mr. Aideed said Tuesday that he backs this idea.

"My intentions are that I support the federal system but that it should be done through referendum. And that [there should be] a commission of by independent intellectual Somalis, outside and inside, to study very carefully the borders of the federal [state]," he said. "And the Somali population has the responsibility, not the politicians [to decide] what type of federal [state] we should have."

Somalia has a population of 14 million people. It is estimated that 2.5 million people have fled the country since 1991, when President Barre was overthrown and the warlords seized control of various parts of the country. It is hoped that many of them will return home when peace is restored to Somalia.