VOA Somali Service Interview with Jendayi Frazer, Asst. Secretary of State for African Affairs, 11/6/07
Q. Fighting between the government with the help of Ethiopian troops and the insurgents in Somalia seems to be increasing by the day. Who is responsible – both the insurgents and the government?
A. The insurgents are responsible, because the government has the right to protect and defend a country and the insurgents have an option, which is to join national reconciliation, join a political process, rather than to take up their grievances with the government through armed force. So the government has the constitutional requirement to defend a population, so I would say that really the greatest responsibility is on the insurgents.
That said, we ask the government to act with restraint and that the needs to protect the civilian population are paramount, so in the sense of trying to protect civilians, the civilians are the least responsible and it is both the responsibility of the government and the international force, AMISOM, to try to make sure those people stay out of harms’ way.
Q. As you know, a lot of people have fled the city of Mogadishu. The United Nations estimates that from 88,000-100,000 fled Mogadishu in the last few days alone. Can the transitional government do anything to turn things around?
A. Well, I think they have an opportunity. They’ve tried. They had the national reconciliation congress, which was an important part of trying to turn things around and I think now, with Prime Minister Gedi’s resignation, there is a new opportunity to try to reach out very broadly to get a prime minister who can help to bring the communities together in Somalia, and so I think that is an important new dynamic in Somalia and one that we all have to take very seriously. And we hope that a very capable person, really someone who can bring the communities together, will be selected.
Q. You have already said something on the resignation of Prime Minister Gedi, but would you comment on the resignation and the way it happened?
A. I think Prime Minister Gedi took a very commendable step, a very honorable step, in that he has removed him self so that someone can come in who can bring the communities together. So I think that we should all applaud the prime minister’s willingness to move aside in the national interest. And I think again it was just the right thing to do at the right time.
Q. Was there a U.S. role in his departure?
A. There is not a role in his departure. Of course we continue to have conversations with former prime minister Gedi and when he was the prime minister we consulted we him and advised him and of course he consulted with us and advised us over the last year. And so those conversations are continuing to be ongoing and certainly at the time when he was making this very weighty he consulted and reached out to the United States for our advice.
Q. What should President Yusuf and the Somali parliament do in order to get a prime minister that has the confidence of both the president and the international community, including the U.S.?
A. It would be important to have the confidence of the United States and the international community and the parliament but most importantly you need someone who has the confidence of the Somali people. That’s the most important thing, because again this prime minister has to be the key to a national reconciliation. We’ve said over and over and over again that Somalia’s future, a future of stability, depends on reconciling the various communities, whether they are political communities, ideological, the different clans, civil society groups, intellectuals, religious authorities, all need to come together. So we need a prime minister who can bring those communities together and that is what the United States is looking for.
Q. If you could give us a little more on that: what would be the characteristics of the prime minister that would be appropriate?
A. That’s going to be President (Abdulahi) Yusuf’s choice. But I would say the main characteristic is someone who sees the national interest, someone who is committed to the transitional federal charter and a transition in 2009, someone who has capability, political skill, and certainly someone who can embody that spirit of nationalism that he’s operating and working in the interests of the country as a whole, not in his personal interests or even in his clan’s interest, but in the interest of Somali people.
Q. U.S. Special Envoy for Somalia Mr. John Yates is quoted as saying last week that the United States underestimated the magnitude of hatred the Somali people have for the Ethiopian troops. Does that mean the United States might change the way it approaches Somalia’s problem now?
A. Well, I don’t think that the United States underestimated the complexity of the situation in Somalia. And really, any notion of the hatred for the Ethiopians, the reason why the Transitional Federal Government has the support of a force – both the Ethiopians and the AMISOM – the Ethiopians are playing a critical role in trying to stabilize the country. We’re hoping that others will take their place, but if in fact Ethiopia left, the entire country would descend into further chaos, to deep chaos. So I think that it’s wrong to point to the Ethiopians as somehow a culprit. And as I said, the problem is Somalis, the Somalis have to come together. That’s critically important. The communities need to come together.
Q. When do you think that Somali Federal forces can stand by themselves and Ethiopian troops will leave the country?
A. Well, I don’t think the heart of the problem is the Ethiopians, because Somalia has been without a government for over 16 years. Now the Transitional Federal Government is trying to put in place the institutions to have a transition to an elected government by 2009. Ethiopian troops have not been there for 16 years. So to blame the Ethiopian troops is a faulty analysis and it takes the responsibility away from Somalis themselves. We hope that Ethiopian troops can leave as soon as possible and that soon as possible is the deployment of AMISOM forces and we are trying to get more in. We hope that Burundians will deploy sometime this month.
Q. Talking about AMISOM, what is the United States doing to assist others to provide necessary troops to Somalia?
A. Well, the Burundians have repeatedly said they want to deploy to Somalia and they are committed to doing so. And we have provided about 19 million dollars so far to try to assist the countries, Uganda and Burundi, we are training two battalions of Burundians, we’ve procured equipment for those battalions and we will assist in their deployment. And so we are working with other governments. Secretary Rice has also reached out to Nigerian President (Umaru) Yar'Adua to talk about the deployment of Nigerians, as well as President (John) Kufuor, with Ghanaians. So we are working. We also need to do more with the United Nations and get the United Nations involved.
Q. If I can just turn to the Ethiopian-Eritrean problem, there are many people who reported Ethiopia and Eritrea are on the verge of a war. Is the U.S. pressing Ethiopia to accept the border demarcation that was set by the international boundary commission?
A. We always have. We told Prime Minister Meles (Zenawi) that the delimitation decision of the Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission should be accepted without condition. Prime Minister Meles has accepted it without condition. But we have also said that it is extremely important that in the process of demarcation that there be dialogue between the two parties. That is critically important because their communities on the border will be affected.
I had the opportunity to go to the border, to talk to the local people and I know that it is important for the two countries to talk about the demarcation process. So delimitation should absolutely be accepted unequivocally, demarcation should definitely be done, but it needs to be done in a context of dialogue.
Q. And finally, are there any plans for the U.S. military in the region to become more active in protecting ships off the Somali coast loaded with relief supplies from piracy attacks.
A. There is a Task Force 150, it is a multinational task force that operates in those waters and has responsibilities. Now, operating inside Somalia’s territorial waters, we haven’t taken any decision to do so. I think, France, President (Nicolas) Sarkozy at the Security Council meeting on Africa, said that France may take on this role to try to deal with the piracy issue and we certainly would welcome that, but there is a multinational presence out there and the United States is part of that presence.
Q. Thank you Madam Secretary.