|Zooming into the Past|
Tuur: Barre’s Regime Has to
[Interview with SNM Foreign Minister Abdurahman Ahmed Ali [Tuur] by Kamal Samari: “AL-DUSTUR Interviews Somali Opposition Leader: ‘We Are Calling for a Weapons Embargo against Siyaad Barre’”]
Once again events in Somalia made headlines last month. Reports from Western embassies and Western firms in Somalia concurred that “the fall of Siyaad Barre’s regime was imminent and that the Somali president’s reliance on the army was no longer enough to guarantee that he would stay in power.” This was mentioned in a report prepared by an American firm, a copy of which was obtained by AL-DUSTUR.
The aforementioned report ends with an unequivocal statement that “conditions in Somalia cannot improve until Siyaad Barre is overthrown.”
Did Western countries, which are supporting the regime in Somalia – and Washington and Rome head a list of countries supporting that regime – decide to abandon Siyaad Barre? What is the position of Arab countries, some of which are still supporting Siyaad Barre’s regime? What is the solution which is being proposed by factions of Somalia’s opposition to get Somalia out of its predicament? I took these questions to Mr. Abdurahman Ahmed Ali [Tuur], Somalia’s former ambassador to the United Arab Emirates and foreign relations secretary for the Somali National Movement [SNM].
[AL-DUSTUR] What are the most recent developments in Somalia? Is it true that calm has been restored to the capital, Mogadishu?
[Tuur] The uprising of our people last July 14 was the result of deteriorating conditions throughout the country. It was the people’s reaction to the horrible crimes committed by Siyaad Barre’s regime and the policy of total destruction which he practiced in the northern part of the country. Although the security forces and the armed forces of Siyaad Barre’s tribe, the Marehan [Clan], are deployed in the capital, Mogadishu, that fact did not prevent our people from fighting to resist this ruling clique. Leaflets were distributed in the streets, and posters were posted calling for the fall of the regime and expressing support for the SNM. Prayer leaders delivering their sermons in the mosques condemned the crimes which were committed by these troops against unarmed citizens and demanded that this tribal regime which devastated the country be overthrown.
Calls for the government’s resignation, recognition for opposition parties, and honest legislative elections were heard even during the conference which was held recently, from 17 June to 2 July, by the so-called Revolutionary Socialist Party, which is the only recognized party in Somalia. And yet, Siyaad Barre ordered conference proceedings stopped, and he took a series of repressive measures against citizens in north Somalia.
In addition to these factors, Siyaad Barre’s policy, with regard to human rights violations, on the one hand, or the deterioration of economic and social conditions, on the other, did, of course, have negative effects. Somali citizens’ opposition to Barre’s regime grew everywhere in the country, even in Mogadishu, which is considered the only stronghold for Siyaad Barre’s regime.
Faced with this explosive situation, Siyaad Barre and his clique killed a Christian bishop in Mogadishu, whose only crime was to condemn the massacres committed by the army and to demand an end to human rights violations. It seems that the regime was also accusing the bishop, who had been living in the Somali capital for 40 years, of leaking information to an Amnesty International delegation which had visited Somalia late last June. The regime tried to pin the assassination on Muslim clerics to justify, on the one hand, its repressive policies against the imams, and, to try, on the other hand, distracting international public opinion away from the stifling crisis in which Barre’s regime has been floundering.
The first confrontation between demonstrators and Siyaad Barre’s troops resulted in the death of 750 citizens and the kidnapping of approximately 1,000, who may have been killed but whose fate remains unknown. Approximately 1,500 citizens from north Sudan were also arrested, and incidents of rape, looting, and killing are still taking place. Neutral sources indicated that approximately 46 persons, including students, professors, and civil servants, were executed on the beach in Mogadishu in the presence of General Maslah, Siyaad Barre’s son, who participated personally in the execution of innocent civilians. Contrary to what is being promoted by official propaganda, order has not been established in Mogadishu. It is likely that tense conditions in that city will become even more tense, just as they did in Hargeisa and Burao on the eve of the June 1989 events.
[AL-DUSTUR] The ongoing conflict in Somalia has been described by some observers as an ethnic [clan?], not a political conflict. What would you say to this charge?
[Tuur] The people of Somalia are a cohesive people who speak the same language. The vast majority of Somalis are Sunni Muslims. Therefore, the reasons for the present crisis are not ethnic. As I mentioned earlier, this crisis has been caused by the people’s growing anger with the repressive policies pursued by Siyaad Barre’s regime and the massacres that were committed by his troops. The people are angry with a tribal system which allows the Marehan Tribe, Siyaad Barre’s tribe, to monopolize key positions in government. Barre appointed his son, Maslah, general, and recently he appointed him army commander. Ten years ago Barre appointed his brother, Abdurahman Jama Barre, Minister of Foreign Affairs, and recently, he appointed Ahmed Suleyman Abdulle, his brother-in-law, who had served for years as head of the National Security Agency, minister of interior. These are a few examples of the favoritism practiced by this tribal regime.
[AL-DUSTUR] Official circles in Somalia accused clerics of provoking the disturbances which were seen in the capital, Mogadishu. Is there a religious movement behind these disturbances?
[Tuur] Siyaad Barre’s regime is trying to promote these charges for the purpose of reducing the popularity of the opposition in Somalia. Barre’s regime is also trying to win the support of Western countries by suggesting that those who oppose the government are religious fanatics. The fact is, there is no religious movement in Somalia. Fanaticism is alien to our people who are known for their tolerance. To prove the point, let me say that our movement, the SNM, is represented in Rome by a Christian. And yet, our Muslim people are extremely disturbed by the outcome of Siyaad Barre’s policies. These policies caused a decline in values and spread bribery and corruption in the administration and in government offices. The uprising of our Muslim people in Hargeisa in 1982 and 1984, which was opposed with bullets and repression, may provide the best evidence that our people oppose a regime which scorns values.
[AL-DUSTUR] To what extent do the factions of the Somali opposition coordinate their activities with each other? What is your relationship with the recently established United Somali Congress?
[Tuur] There is no doubt that the victories scored by the SNM indicate that, as far as its numbers and its condition are concerned, the SNM is the strongest opposition movement to Siyaad Barre’s regime and that it enjoys broad popular support everywhere in the country. The movement’s political and military organization is well contrived and effective. Our movement, which is the largest and strongest movement in the country, has a central committee that consists of citizens from north, central, and south Somalia. Consequently, it took upon itself the responsibility of coordinating activities with other factions of the Somali opposition and communicating with those factions, including the United Somali Congress. In this regard, reference must be made to the fact that our movement welcomed the position taken by the new movement. That position, which was announced at the new movement’s organizational conference, declared that the United Somali Congress was willing to work with the SNM.
[AL-DUSTUR] But why hasn’t Siyaad Barre’s regime been overthrown yet? Who is supporting him inside Somalia and abroad? What are the forces that have kept him in power for two decades?
[Tuur] Siyaad Barre has been using fire and brimstone to rule the country. He has been using repressive institutions which he planted everywhere: in the military, in intelligence agencies, and in the military courts.
In addition to these repressive institutions, Siyaad Barre established an army that is made up of the Marehan Tribe and a number of refugees from Ethiopia. This army committed brutal acts recently against Somali citizens in the north and in Mogadishu. Last year, however, the SNM proved that it can penetrate that stronghold which has been protecting Siyaad Barre and his regime throughout the past years. We gave the Somali people evidence that the invincibility of that army was now doubtful. As a result of the SNM’s victories, morale in this army declined; there was discontent and rebellion within its ranks; and a number of army officers joined the Somali opposition to continue the struggle against Siyaad Barre’s regime.
So much for the domestic front, as far as foreign support is concerned, the United States offered Siyaad Barre’s regime military and economic aid in return for the United States’ use of the Berbera Military Base, the Mogadishu Airport, and the Kismayu Airport for military purposes. Washington’s financial help to Siyaad Barre came in the form of loans to Somalia from the IBRD [International Bank for Reconstruction and Development] and the IMF. In addition, the United States sent food to Somalia. And yet, the U.S. position and the position of Western countries underwent change during the past 3 months. The U.S. Congress asked President Bush to stop all aid to Siyaad Barre’s regime because of recent human rights violations which occurred in Somalia. Confirmation of the change in the U.S. position toward Siyaad Barre’s regime came in a statement made last July by Herman, assistant U.S. secretary of state for African affairs. In that statement Herman said that the situation in Somalia was critical, and he said that at the present time the country lacked a central administration that was capable of managing the country’s affairs. Washington and Western countries advised their citizens against traveling to Somalia unless it was absolutely necessary.
Some information indicates that a few European Community countries, including Italy, which used to offer assistance to Siyaad Barre’s regime, decided to suspend or reduce their assistance to Barre’s regime. Britain, however, assumed an unequivocal position toward conditions in Somalia. In this regard, reference must be made to the fact that Siyaad Barre’s regime is working very hard to acquire weapons from South Africa, Romania, Chile, and the black market. On this occasion, we are asking the international community to prohibit the sale of weapons to Siyaad Barre’s regime because selling weapons to that regime will prolong the tragedies of the Somali people.
[AL-DUSTUR] It seems that your movement adopted the military option to overthrow the regime. What about your political option?
[Tuur] The SNM supports national reconciliation among the citizens of Somalia. Siyaad Barre’s regime, however, has to go. Barre’s regime is the regime which killed hundreds of innocent people and destroyed cities and villages in their entirety with their residents. We are convinced that the fall of this regime is imminent. We will not allow this regime, which carried out its coup on 21 October 1969, to celebrate the 20th anniversary of that coup.
[AL-DUSTUR] What is Ethiopia’s position toward the opposition movements and toward recent events?
[Tuur] Ethiopia is pursuing a policy that guarantees justice among ethnic groups as well as freedom of religion. Ethiopia’s positions in support of the Arab cause have been honorable. Furthermore, Ethiopia embraced more than half a million Somali refugees, all of whom had fled from Siyaad Barre’s purgatory. In the early eighties Somali liberation movements could be found in Ethiopia, that country which has been offering protection over the years to refugees fleeing from their country. In this regard, reference must be made to the fact that the first wave of Muslim refugees who fled from Mecca went to Ethiopia.
Ever since Somalia and Ethiopia concluded an agreement in February 1988, all the SNM’s forces have been in Somalia, and they have nothing to do with Ethiopia. Let me conclude by taking this opportunity to speak on behalf of our movement and express our thanks to Ethiopia, which is embracing more than half a million Somali refugees. We are certain that the presence of those refugees in Ethiopia will have a positive effect on relations between the two countries in the future. The presence of Somali refugees in Ethiopia will strengthen the cooperation between Somalis and Ethiopians and will help the two peoples establish good neighborly relations between them.
[AL-DUSTUR] What is the position of Arab countries toward Siyaad Barre’s regime?
[Tuur] The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia refused to receive Siyaad Barre’s envoy. Iraq and Egypt affirmed that they would not furnish Siyaad Barre’s regime with weapons to use against its own people. We asked Colonel al-Qadhafi, who had previously offered military assistance to Siyaad Barre’s regime, to change his policy. Regarding the Emirates, we sent His Highness al-Shaykh Zayid a letter asking him not to fulfill Siyaad Barre’s requests. At the present time Somali envoys are traveling in Arab and Western capitals for the purpose of getting assistance “to rebuild the northern cities which were destroyed by government troops.” We are asking our Arab brothers to help find radical solutions to the problems of the Muslim people of Somalia.