In the post-Islamist Somali capital Mogadishu, a deadline for the city's militias and residents to voluntarily hand in their weapons has been largely ignored. As VOA Correspondent Alisha Ryu reports from Mogadishu, officials of the country's interim government acknowledge they only have a short time to establish their authority before Ethiopian troops, who are keeping a lid on violence in the tense city, withdraw.
On Monday, Somali interim Prime Minister Ali Mohamed Gedi threatened to use force, if all of the arms in this gun-infested city were not turned in voluntarily. But as the government deadline loomed, only a few weapons could be seen at various gun collection centers in Mogadishu.
Prime Minister Gedi says he is hopeful that government troops will not have to go door-to-door to disarm the capital.
"Primarily, the weapons are kept by the business people, some warlords, and sub-clans, in addition to individuals," he said. "Except for freelance militias, the other stakeholders are ready to cooperate and hand over to the government. But moving the weapons from their sites to the collection centers can be problematic for them. So, they are requesting us to go to take these weapons to the collection centers."
A successful disarmament effort could mark a major turning point for the two-year-old, internationally recognized-but-weak interim government. Until a week ago, it had virtually no influence outside of its base in the provincial town of Baidoa, 250 kilometers from Mogadishu.
Factional leaders and members of parliament Mohamed Qanare Afrah and Mohamed Dheere, who formed the core of a U.S.-backed, anti-terror alliance defeated by the Islamists in June, are reportedly determined to re-arm their militias. Sources tell VOA the two warlords are now the main customers of gun dealers in Mogadishu's notorious weapons market.
Following key Ethiopian-led military victories over the country's once-powerful Islamist forces, Somali interim-government leaders entered the capital for the first time last week, vowing to restore a secular, central government in Somalia as soon as possible.
The country has been without a functioning government since 1991, when factional leaders overthrew dictator Mohamed Siad Barre and carved up Mogadishu and the rest of the country into personal fiefdoms.
The chaos and instability under factional rule gave rise to the Islamic Courts group, which seized power in Mogadishu seven months ago and brought a degree of stability to the country by installing strict Islamic laws called sharia.
But the Islamist leadership strengthened ties with militant terrorist organizations, which alarmed the West, caused the movement to lose popular support, and prompted Ethiopia to intervene.
A Supreme Court judge in the interim administration, Mohammed Hassan Saeed, tells VOA that because what Somalis want most is security, it is imperative for the government to act quickly to create an effective court system.
"We cannot accept a vacuum and a lapse of the judiciary would mean some tribal or other courts may crop up," he said. "So, we do not want to give that opportunity."
Judge Saeed and Prime Minister Gedi attended the swearing-in ceremony for more than a dozen secular judges, who will preside in courtrooms abandoned by the Islamists.
Saeed says most of the new judges had been lawyers and judges during the regime of Mohamed Siad Barre, and recently received two months of legal re-training in Baidoa.