Cairo, Asharq Al-Awsat – Somali Foreign Minister Muhammad Abdullahi Omar told Asharq Al-Awsat that his government intends to regain control over all part of the Somali capital, Mogadishu, by a large-scale military operation. He denied that the transitional authority, which is led by Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmad, is about to collapse.
Omar disclosed that hundreds of foreign fighters affiliated with the Al-Qaeda Organization are taking part in the battles that the government forces are fighting against Islamist rebels who seek to overthrow the government and do not recognize its legitimacy.
He said the Al-Qaeda Organization leader Osama Bin Laden recently issued instructions to his supporters in Somalia to overthrow the transitional government and assassinate Sheikh Sharif.
Omar accused the Youth Movement, which is opposed to the transitional government and to the foreign forces’ presence in Somalia, of carrying out a foreign agenda.
He strongly criticized the leader of the Somali opposition alliance, Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys. He said Sheikh Aweys is no longer interested in peace or the national reconciliation process, Rather, he is interested in waging wars inside Somalia, he added.
Omar shared the view of his prime minister, Omar Abdirashid Ali Sharmarke, who does not expect much of the negotiations with the hard-line Islamist rebels who have no political program and seek only to use the country that lies in the Horn of Africa as a safe haven, as he put it.
The Somali foreign minister is currently on a visit to London before traveling to Damascus to take part in the 36th session of the foreign ministers of the Organization of Islamic Conference. Speaking by telephone from London, he said Eritrea should enter talks with the Somali Government, instead of threatening security and stability in the region.
The following is the text of the interview:
[Asharq Al-Awsat] As a government, you seem to be losing control of Mogadishu.
[Omar] No. This is not true. Let me reassure the world through your newspaper that we continue to be in control of the situation in the country. We are confident of victory. The people support peace and the national reconciliation process and know very well that we are serious in these efforts. As you know, the people approved our steps because they do not want war and granted their support to the government. You will see soon that the situation on the ground will prove these facts.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Do you mean that the government will not fall, as is rumored?
[Omar] Of course, this is untrue at all. These are the opposition’s claims, and you will soon find out for yourselves that what we are saying is true.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Are we talking about a major military operation or something like that?
[Omar] We are talking about two things, a military operation and a political process proceeding side by side. We are confident that we will control not only the city, but also the area around it. The public opinion and society totally support the government and its political program on the ground.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] But Sheikh Aweys refused to respond to your previous appeals to join the peace process.
[Omar] He is an important politician. However, he continues to communicate with the Youth Movement. He gets help from the Youth Movement whose agenda is foreign, not Somali. Therefore, it is difficult for them to be locally accepted.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Are we talking about Al-Qaeda?
[Omar] We are talking about the Youth Movement and their friends abroad. It is no secret that the Al-Qaeda supports the Youth Movement, and there is no doubt that Osama Bin Laden issued orders and instructions to overthrow the government and assassination the (Somali) president. There are evidences more than we need to show this relationship.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Who helps them?
[Omar] The Islamic Party admitted that it is a partner of the Youth Movement. They coordinate their operations, and there is great cooperation between them. We know that foreign fighters are operating with them.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What is the number of the Al-Qaeda fighters in Somalia?
[Omar] We would like to say that those who fight alongside the Youth Movement are foreign fighters, not Al-Qaeda members. They publicly admitted this fact. They can be seen in many areas, in Bidawa, Merka, and Mogadishu.
We currently estimate that 250-300 foreign fighters are taking part in the fighting alongside the Youth Movement in important and vital positions. This is not a secret, and you may talk to the people in the capital. They will confirm to you that what we are saying is true.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Do they support Sheikh Aweys?
[Omar] According to our assessment, the Youth Movement and Islamic Party are partners, and the Islamic Party admitted this relationship. Given this situation, we believe that they form one entity.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] But some people, yourself included, believed that coexistence with Sheikh Aweys was possible.
[Omar] Yes, this was true in the past. But now, Sheikh Aweys said he will not talk to, will not recognize, and will not deal with the government. That is his decision and his statement. He said they will fight, and this is what he is doing.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] So, is he now outside the process of peace and reconciliation?
[Omar]Practically, he is the leader of the Islamic Party.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Will you cease contacts with him?
[Omar] He said they will continue fighting. He believes he is not interested in that government. Accordingly, he is not interested in peace. He is interested in war.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] How do you view Eritrea’s stand in light of its president’s recent statements against you?
[Omar] The Somali Government has no intention of engaging in conflict with Eritrea. We have no joint border with Eritrea. We did Eritrea a favor in the past. We supported the Eritrean people’s struggle early. Therefore, we are surprised and ask why Eritrea does not want to help our people emerge from their current ordeal.