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Somalis Try to Avert Showdown

Aired January 17, 2002 - 20:00   ET


CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm Christiane Amanpour in Mogadishu. With the implied threat of U.S. military intervention hanging over their heads, we show you how Somalis are trying to avert a showdown, and how they are trying to bring their country back from the abyss, tonight LIVE FROM SOMALIA.

ANNOUNCER: Is this the next Afghanistan? We'll tell you what people here think of Osama bin Laden. It might surprise you.

Flashback to 1993, U.S. troops target an infamous warlord and his top lieutenants. Tonight you'll meet one of them. And, guess who may be returning?


ROBERT PAINTER, U.N. SECURITY: I think, you know, worst-case scenario, we get to Mogadishu, fighting breaks out. We get taken captive. Will fear stand in the way of humanitarian help?


ANNOUNCER: LIVE FROM SOMALIA, here's Christiane Amanpour in Mogadishu.

AMANPOUR: There is a palpable sense of fear here in the teahouses, on the newssheets, in radio and television. There is little other talk than what might happen here next.

We are the only really visible Western presence out on the streets in Mogadishu today, and people are constantly coming up to us saying how sorry they are for what happened in America on September 11th.

Even delegates from the new Shei Ti (ph) Transitional National Government are coming here to assure us that they have no love for al Qaeda and that Osama bin Laden would never be welcomed here.

Indeed, in an extraordinary gesture, one of the militias of one of the main warlords here in Mogadishu handed us this image, one of these images that has been printed and circulated around the world since the attack on the World Trade Center, depicting a rebuilt World Trade Center in the form of a rue gesture and an epithet directed at Osama bin Laden. That's how they tell us their feeling, and at the same time for the first time, idealists here, individual entrepreneurs and the business community, the real power brokers here, are trying to figure out their own solutions for rescuing their country from destruction.


(voice over): Moaning in pain, a seven-year-old child seeks help for his injuries. The boy's come to the right place, the most modern medical center in Mogadishu.

DR. ABDULLAH FARAH ASSEYR: He fell down from a third floor, and fell down to the floor. Probably there's a fracture here.

AMANPOUR: It appears he toppled over while chasing doves on the roof. But this is the story of his doctor (inaudible) and what they are doing to promote peace. They studied in Europe and then, to escape the civil war here, they went to work in the rich Persian Gulf states and just recently, they've returned from well-paid jobs to their own poor broken down country.

ASSEYR: So you come back for some time and (inaudible). We're learning home is the best. So we came back to contribute to our country and to help our people.

AMANPOUR: Motivated by a mason reconciliation process, they put up their own savings and persuaded investors to help build and equip this center with some of the most advanced medical machines.

DR. MOHAMMOUD MOHAMMOUD: Investment itself is a kind of peace because when you're investing you want to protect that investment.

AMANPOUR: It's an investment they protect by hiring workers and treating patients from all Mogadishu's rival clans. Most pay, except for emergency cases like this boy whose parents are too poor.

If it all sounds hopelessly idealistic, consider it's also the message coming from the business community. Here in Mogadishu's main commercial district, business leaders are calling for what so many Somalis are today and that is international intervention.

AMANPOUR (on camera): But here, they're saying that the U.S., Europe or others would do best by investing in the business community, a tried and true success.

AMANPOUR (voice over); NationLink, one of Somalia's two telecom companies, runs a thriving mobile phone and land line network that covers the capitol and half the country. It's gateway is MCI in the United States.

The company hired 300 militiamen and turned them into security guards at facilities around town. Others have been trained to be telecom professionals. Unlike the warlords, they say, business knows no political borders.

AHMAD DEN, MANAGING DIRECTOR, NATIONLINK: We establish and succeeded in doing business that are vital for our people, that created jobs, that gave our people a lifeline.

AMANPOUR: And that's what the people here so desperately need. War and no central government have reduced this country to poverty, where survival for most depends on hedgy trading. And whether it's selling eggs and camel milk on a street corner, or sitting in a boardroom, women are a vital part of Somalia's business life.

NASRA WEHELYE, NATIONLINK EXECUTIVE: In Somalia right now, because of the civil war, women are the bread winners since there is no choice. There is no government. There is no (inaudible). Men are the ones who are creating the problem in Somalia. They are the warlords. They are the militia. So the women has to do business to make, to survive.

AMANPOUR: But today, Somalia wants more, the opportunity to live, not just survive. Christiane Amanpour, CNN.


Now because of the impending military threat hanging over Somalia's head as we've been talking about, they're having some trouble luring back some of the Somali Diaspora, even trying to lure foreign specialists to come here and help reconstruct this country.

In the meantime, other countries, which support the U.S. fight in terrorism and indeed supported the fight in Afghanistan are saying that Somalia should be spared until more investigation is done into the alleged links in terrorism.

The U.N. also says the same. Indeed the U.N. says anything that could destabilize and disrupt Somalia's fragile attempts to rescue and reconstruct this country should be avoided, and this week, the U.N. has sent in a special security team to assess whether or not it's safe to restart their humanitarian operations that were suspended, post September 11th.

CNN's Jeff Konange is in Bidoa, where they have been doing their job.


JEFF KONANGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): The United Nations special security team flew into opposition controlled Bidoa, the first non-humanitarian U.N. presence in the country since the military mission known as Unisom (ph) pulled out in the mid-1990s.

This latest visit, a direct consequence of the terrorist attacks on the United States last September.

PAINTER: We feel that one of the sort of unforeseen impacts of September 11th has been the realization that the world is much closer than it used to be. We're all tied together and linked together, and to have these states that are ungoverned and wild present a threat to everyone, not just to the developed nations, but to nations around them. KONANGE: Since the 1995 pullout, Somalia has been gripped by wave after wave of violence, with the U.N. and other international NGOs coming under repeated attacks from warring factions, jostling for control of the lawless countryside.

SAM SHIN, INTERNATIONAL MEDICAL CORPS: I think there is a certain need in security in different pockets of places. I don't think it's quite as widespread as people may think outside. But there's certainly sort of lawlessness in different people taking different regions as their own.

KONANGE: Of greatest concern to the U.N. is the increase in the number of gun-toting gangs in the streets. There are also fears that Somalia could be a haven for terrorist groups, like al Qaeda, to conduct business. But the security assessment teams says, despite the breakdown of law and order, the world can not afford to ignore Somalia this time around.

PAINTER: I think, you know, worst-case scenario, we get to Mogadishu, fighting breaks out. We get taken captive, whatever. Then we're not going to be able to sanction going back there, definitely. But that doesn't mean we're going to write off Somalia. I think where we can engage and where we can help people, it's our duty to do so.

KONANGE: But even as the visit coincides with one by U.S. intelligence in early December, the U.N. officials insist one has nothing to do with the other and that they're here simply to determine whether Somalia is a safe working environment.

And the presence of the team is raising more questions than answers. General Mohammed Morgan, Defense Secretary of the Opposition Somali Reconstruction and Reconciliation Council, says the U.N. needs to review the failure of its past peacekeeping mission.

GENERAL MOHAMMED MORGAN, DEFENSE SECRETARY: I think they realize that since they were working in Somalia for the last eleven years, they realize their mistakes done by not all the U.N. but the U.N. staff in Somalia. There were a lot of mistakes, a lot of problems, caused by the U.N. officers who were in charge in Somalia. So I think we gave them a hope that in the future they'll be able to correct their mistakes.

KONANGE: Back in the streets of Bidoa, Somalis are used to the absence of law and order. But something's changed in the last decade. There seems to be plenty of food available in the local market, and despite the absence of rain in some parts, there are no obvious signs of starvation.

Abi Ahmed (ph) sells camel meat in the town's busy market square. He says business is booming despite the absence of many aid organizations.

"There's plenty of food and meat in the market" he says. "I just wish people had more money to buy more food."

And the locals themselves feel these are times of peace in Bidoa, especially when compared with lawless Mogadishu.

"This place is a haven. It's virtually crime-free and you hardly hear the sound of gunfire these days" this man says.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What can I say to you? There was fighting for 10 years. Now there's no any fighting around here.

KONANGE (on camera): The U.N. team will visit the country's major towns before ending up in the capitol, Mogadishu, where for the first time they will meet with members of the Transitional National Government.

From there, they travel to New York, where they'll report their findings to Secretary General Kofi Annan. That report will determine whether the U.N. returns to one of the most dangerous countries in the world to live and work in. Jeff Konange, CNN, Bidoa.


AMANPOUR: Now although the U.N. has yet to make an official statement about whether it will return, it is also coming here to Mogadishu, and what we're hearing is that their initial assessments are positive and the odds are the U.N. will gradually start reopening their humanitarian offices here.

You've heard a lot about how the last U.S. mission here failed, after trying to hunt down warlords. When we return, we'll talk to one of them.



AMANPOUR (voice over): Any visit to Somalia inevitably causes us to reflect on the last U.S. mission here that ended in such spectacular failure and caused the United States to withdraw back in 1993, when a firefight in the hunt for Mohammed Farrah Aidid (ph) and an ensuing battle caused helicopters to crash in the city and 18 American soldiers were killed.

Today, that wreckage is overgrown and covered in a giant cactus bush, and the people here are afraid the U.S. might want to avenge itself for the deaths of their soldiers, but they are hoping that the U.S. will forgive and forget.


AHMED SHEIKH MAHOMOOD (through translator): It was a time of confusion and chaos, a time without law and order, a bad period that Americans came into, and I would say what happened should be forgotten.


AMANPOUR: Well, joining us now here in Mogadishu is Osman Atto. You may remember that name from 1992 and 1993. He was a key lieutenant of Mohammed Farrah Aidid, who ended up turning against the United States.

Osman Atto was a focus, along with Aidid, of the American search. He was attacked. His house was attacked, and indeed he spent some time in captivity. Mr. Otto, thank you for joining us tonight.

I want to ask you from the Somali point of view, from your point of view, because there's so much focus right now on what befell the American Special Forces here and what happened in those terrible dark days of the last intervention. Describe for me what it was like to be the target of this hunt.

OSMAN ATTO, FORMER AIDID FINANCIER: First thank you. The hunt was not easy. We had been hunted and obviously in 1992, '93 and in '94 the effort of resolving the problem of Somalia did not work and unfortunately, we believe (inaudible) then the Secretary General had had his own agenda to hunt and destroy part of the Somali community and was concentrating on disarming Somalia.

AMANPOUR: Now you say (inaudible) but in fact, the hunting down in particularly October, 1993 the search for Aidid was a U.S. mission. Tell me what it was like when your house and facilities were bombed. You, of course, were Aidid's chief financier, and the United States wanted to stop his finances and get you. Tell me the physical things that happened to you then.

ATTO: Well, it was obvious the aircraft bombed our premises, our properties and the garages, various garages and the houses, and unfortunately the Americans were acting (inaudible), claimed to act (inaudible) or the (inaudible). And they totally misunderstood the whole concept.

AMANPOUR: But you were a backer of Aidid, and you spent some time in U.S. detention, correct? Tell me what that was like.

ATTO: I was working with Aidid to bring, help to bring solution and that - when we failed to achieve that objective, Aidid hunted - the U.S. hunted us and they was terrible to quite honest. People was dying everywhere and the Somalis lost almost 10,000 (inaudible).

AMANPOUR: Now today, Somalia is asking the United States to forgive and forget that incident, particularly October, 1993. What is your feeling, you still control some parts of the city, after all these years, do you want to have relations with the United States? What are you feeling about the U.S.?

ATTO: Well, my feeling is that the United States is the only Super Power and we believe we have to work to forgive and forget of the past and we need the Americans to participate in the reconciliation and (inaudible) of this country. It is their moral obligation.

AMANPOUR: Well, you say that but they came here once to help rebuild and to end the famine here and it ended in disaster for them. What makes you sure that they would be welcome back here again, if ever there was a chance that they might come back? ATTO: I think it was a clear-cut intention to help Somalia. Then they had another agenda. They concentrated on hunting people. This is why they failed. Now if they come and help the Somalis, most certainly the Somalis in all parts of Somalia will welcome them to help achieve that.

AMANPOUR: Well, in just the few days that we've been here, we've been talking to a lot of people on the streets of Mogadishu who tell us that they are truly sick and tired of the 11 years of warlordism, of the weapon ruling the streets and ruling their lives, of the militias that race around here in their technicals and brandish their weapons, and they want, they say, an international force to come here and disarm people. So that's what the people want if it's not what the warlords might want.

ATTO: I think, let us say the position of warlord, it is totally wrong. The (inaudible) is that first any solution must be a Somali solution to disarm. Second, we believe international community including the Americans should help achieve that objective.

AMANPOUR: Back in 1993, the U.S. has evidence that bin Laden operatives sent fighters here to train people to pick off American targets. Some of them, they say, were involved in the Aidid militias. What happened back then? What evidence do you have of al Qaeda, bin Laden involvement here?

ATTO: Let me say I heard the name of al Qaeda right after September 11 of last year.

AMANPOUR: What about bin Laden? Was he - what was the evidence of his involvement here?

ATTO: Let me say that the name of bin Laden has also been heard after bombing of the U.S. Embassies around Africa and there were no absolute involvement of either bin Laden or al Qaeda in our struggle during '93.

AMANPOUR: The U.S. believes otherwise, and it's also concerned that al Qaeda might get refuge here. Briefly, could they?

ATTO: They could not. Somalis will point finger at them, quickly and easily.

AMANPOUR: Mr. Osman Atto, thank you very much indeed for joining us. And when we come back, education was one of the key casualties of this civil war, and it has robbed this nation of a future.


ANNOUNCER: Somalia's coastline stretches 1,880 miles, making it the longest in Africa and almost as long as the entire East Coast of the United States.


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Coming up on "THE POINT," a chilling piece of videotape shows that there may be more terrorism in store. Where and when is what the Attorney General wants to know.

An Egyptian man is out of jail tonight, weeks after the FBI finds an aviation radio in his hotel room near the World Trade Center. I will talk to him live. And the families of some of the Trade Center victims voiced their anger about compensation. "THE POINT" is less than 10 minutes away.


AMANPOUR: Over the years, we've told you a lot about Khat, the mildly narcotic leaf that many people here chew, and most militias get paid in Khat. That's what they want most. It's like speed or an amphetamine and as one aid worker here, a long-time observer of Somalia says, if all the Khat were suddenly to disappear off the streets, then the security level would dramatically improve.

Like in so many of Africa's poorest countries, the children of Somalia are in danger of losing their future. There are no reliable statistics, but the last U.N. survey says that perhaps only about 15 percent of the children here are enrolled in schools. A local survey put that figure much less at five to 10 percent.

But as CNN's Catherine Bond now reports, like so many individuals, idealists and entrepreneurs here are now stepping in to fill the educational void.


CATHERINE BOND, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): In Somalia, most schools are no longer schools. They are ruins, building laid to waste by various warring factions, now used as squatter camps, the Somalia's armies of homeless people.

One man trying to help fill the void of education here is an Islamic scholar, Sheikh Sharif (ph). We visited his home where every morning he opens his doors to a group of homeless boys and teaches them the Quran, a traditional, not radicalized version.

So Somalia's capitol is full of teaching initiatives, still few Somali children ever learn to read or write. This is obviously packed, but there are statistics indicating that fewer than 20 percent of Somali children go to school.

This school was at a safe person's camp until one of the very few Western aid agencies working here fixed it up. Having to rebuild the education system, it says, has made parents more involved.

ABOI RASHIB HAJ-WOR: We're seeing in the first time of the history of education in Somalia school parents who are at the very center of the education of their children.

BOND: As for higher education, there is one private university in Somalia's capitol. It has the country's only nursing faculty. A language institute has been set up nearby, the most sophisticated equipment, old manual typewriters and a television.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm going to ask you another question. It's about the news.

BOND: Lessons cost $1 per class per month, probably the cheapest place in the world to learn English or Italian or French. Fine for these students, but even that paltry sum is too expensive for most Somalis to afford. A whole generation has already lost its chance at education.

These young militiamen from the security force at the hotel where we've been staying were eight or nine or ten years old when the war began. They tell us they'd rather be teachers than warriors. "But" says Shuki (ph) "we didn't have the chance to study."

Another young gunmen, Ahmed, says "I really hope our country will totally change. Maybe our children will have the opportunities we missed." Catherine Bond, CNN, Mogadishu.


AMANPOUR: And that's our report for tonight. I'm Christiane Amanpour in Mogadishu. We leave you with a picture of Somali children playing in the sea on a sultry afternoon here. They know U.S. warships are patrolling the coast and they hope that this country will be spared America's military might.




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