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IRIN Interview with Major General Muhammad Gani, former northwest military commander

Major General Muhammad Hashi Gani was appointed military commander of the northern Somalia region in 1980 by the former president, Muhammad Siyad Barreh.

It was at a time when the northwest - now the self-declared Republic of Somaliland - was suffering repressive political and economic policies following the end of the Ogaden war with Ethiopia. Gani, along with General Muhammad Sa’id Hirsi “Morgan”, is accused by Somalilanders of human rights abuses, presiding over a security machinery that allowed for civilian arrests, detentions, torture and extra-judicial killings. In a report about the civil war in the north in the 1980s, Human Rights Watch said: “The powers given to the military and security agencies under the state of emergency gave them unlimited authority over political life and led to violent excesses as a matter of policy. Military measures whose apparent aim was to defend the country from its internal enemies made the state itself the enemy many Somalis feared the most. The repression, particularly summary killings, increased dramatically after 1981, resistance intensified and the response became even more violent” [Somalia: A government at war with its own people. Human Rights Watch 1990].

When the Djibouti-hosted Somali peace talks officially opened in Arta on 2 May 2000, Somalilanders - both those who joined and those who opted out of the process - said the conference was stigmatised by the presence of “war criminals”. IRIN put the charges to Gani.

QUESTION: What do you think Arta has achieved?

ANSWER: I believe the best government Somalia has ever had will be born here.

Q: Do you think it will be seen as a national government?

A: I believe it will become a national government and a real government, providing the Europeans and the Americans and the Arabs do not have a separate agenda and they support the will of the people of Somalia. I believe it will be a good government.

Q: But what about within Somalia? There are two regions whose administrations have boycotted the talks?

A: We have information that in the regions you are alluding to, the people now as we speak, are celebrating what is emerging from these talks. They are waiting for the new government and for it to be recognised.

Q: The Somaliland administration has boycotted Arta because it says you, among others, are “war criminals” and should not be attending.

A: If there is anybody - me or anybody else - who are war criminals [pause]. I am not someone who is running away from a crime I have committed against the Somali people. And it’s up to the Somali people and their government to do something about anyone accused of committing crimes against their people. I don’t see myself as a war criminal, and I’m not running from anything that I’ve supposedly done.

Q: Do you think the new government should address crimes committed under Muhammad Siyad Barreh’s regime and the civil war?

A: I don’t believe that in this transitional period it is something that this government can address. But I believe that after the transitional period, the new Somali government will be able to deal with it. It can do two things: either it can set up a truth and reconciliation conference like South Africa to find out what happened, or it can chose to prosecute anyone accused of committing crimes.

Q: You are accused of killings and human rights abuses in the northwest.
How do you see that time?

A: The human rights you are talking about [pause]. Anyone can accuse anyone of violations. But human rights - I was a soldier, I was defending a country. I was defending that country from a guerrilla movement that was backed by the Ethiopian government. I had obligations to protect the territorial integrity of Somalia and I was defending my borders. If you are going to call that action “human rights abuses” - I don’t know what to say. I don’t believe I have committed any human rights abuses.

Q: What do you think the new government should do for an army?

A: I think the UN Security Council has said it will support the new government, morally, materially and economically. If that really happens and a show of force is done by the powers that be, and the international community might have to bring ships, for example, to the coast. We need a three-month military force to assist the new government, and to help demobilise and disarm the militia and co-opt those that they can, and retrain them and to start the police force. I think that something like that can be done.

Q: And how do you sort out which soldiers to co-opt and which to get rid of, to give the new government credibility?

A: As you know, to select individuals for the military or the police there are certain set criteria that you have to follow, that they have to pass. We will follow that criteria. For those others we cannot bring into the new force we will have to retrain them and give them some other means of making a living.

Q: And for yourself, General Gani, do you expect to have a military role?

A: I am now a member of the Transitional National Assembly. I have been away from the military for a long time, including from the previous government - I was removed from the military. Right now, in politics, I’m not particularly interested in any military service. But if my country decides they need me, I’ll do it. And I want to ask you a question - don’t you think that what Europeans and Americans did in Africa are human rights abuses? If you want to talk about human rights abuses, lets talk about that.

This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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