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Bishop: Somalia Must Get Int’l Support or Face 'Collapse'

Ethiopia and the United States have been actively involved in battling Islamist fighters, but an African bishop says the international community must support Somalia too.
( [email protected] ) Jan 11, 2007 03:32 PM EST

Ethiopia and the United States have been actively involved in battling Islamist fighters, but an African bishop says the international community must support Somalia too.

Giorgio Bertin, the Bishop of Djibouti, expressed concern that if Ethiopia withdraws its troops, the current weak transitional government of Somalia will "collapse."

"If the international community does not intervene, there is a real risk that Somalia could go back to the worst violence and clan warfare of 1991," said Bishop Bertin, in a report by Caritas Internationalis on Tuesday. "We need an African or United Nations force, supported by the Europeans and the North Americans, in place to fill the void once the Ethiopians leave."

Bishop Bertin is the Vatican’s Apostolic Administrator of Mogadishu, the capital of Somalia, and the president of Caritas Somalia and Caritas Djibouti.

Somalia, which makes up part of the Horn of Africa, has not had an effective government since 1991. It has been torn by clan divisions and the southern part of the country was ruled by the Islamic fundamentalist group The Union of Islamic Courts, until recently. Only in December was the Somali government with the help of Ethiopian troops able to oust the Islamic fighters from the capital city.

The country is of particular interest to the United States because Washington says the Islamic group harbors al-Qaeda members, some on the FBI’s most wanted terrorists list.

Somali officials told CNN on Wednesday that a U.S.-led air strike in Somalia had killed an al-Qaeda leader wanted for a $5 million reward and accused of planning the 1998 attacks on the U.S. embassies in Nairobi, Kenya, and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, that killed 225 people. U.S. officials, however, have not confirmed that Fazul Abdullah Mohammed has been killed.

U.S. military had pulled out of Mogadishu in 1994 after militants loyal to local warlords shot down two Black Hawk helicopters, reported CNN.

"The presence of an international peacekeeping force could allow discussions to happen that bring into play Somalia’s traditional clan system," said Bishop Bertin. "It has been weakened by the warlords, who are self-appointed men acting in their own interests, but it can be restored."

"The international community too must avoid acting for hidden interests. We all need to act in interest of a true Somali nation, to ensure its success."