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Hundreds of thousands killed in years of war, says new president

The new Somali leader, Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed, said on Friday it was estimated that hundreds of thousands of his countrymen were killed during 14 years of war that devastated the Horn of Africa country, but added he believed the country could be pacified again.

"Up to 300,000 people were killed during the war, while about two million were displaced - some living here in Uganda," Yusuf told a joint news conference with President Yoweri Museveni at the end of a two-day visit to Uganda. "National institutions including the cultural norms of the Somali people were destroyed."

Museveni said the Somali president had expressed preference for an African force to help restore law and order in his country.

"The opinion of the president is that the force that will help restore law and order should be an African force supported by the international community," Museveni said at the news conference in the Ugandan capital, Kampala.

"They prefer an African force [because it] could easily be compatible to the culture of Somalia. Uganda will be ready to offer any force the African Union would like to help our brothers to stand on their feet," Museveni added.

Yusuf has appealed for 20,000 peacekeepers to help restore order in the devastated country and disarm about 55,000 militias that roam the country carrying more than two million small arms. He said Somalia faced an enormous task of rebuilding institutions, including the police and called for support and resources to get the country moving.

"In order to undertake the huge task ahead of us, like disarmament, re-integration and restore the rule of law, we need support from African brothers as well as the international community, without which we cannot achieve much," he said.

"We promise that we shall accelerate programmes in Somalia as much as we can. It is my belief that if we (Somalis) work together, the time frame for pacifying Somalia will be very short," he added.

On the recent clashes in the north of the country, Yusuf said: "I will not blame any side because I am now the president of the whole of Somalia. But a new civil war in Somalia is totally unacceptable and we have advised them what to do and they should take that advice. If they refuse, the Somali people will take them on."

On Thursday, an expert warned against a hasty imposition or deployment of a peacekeeping force to war-ravaged Somalia. Alejandro Bendana, team leader of the European Union (EU)-backed Somalia Strategic Demilitarisation Unit, said: "There is no question about going in there to impose something. This is not Iraq. No one has a right to go and impose on another government - on a people that has not solicited it."

"Whatever action the international community takes has to be sensitive to the reality on the ground," he continued. "There are pre-conditions for a deployment. Along with the question of numbers, there has to be political conditions and understanding and dissemination of what that external deployment should be."

Yusuf was sworn into office on 14 October after Somalia's 275-member transitional parliament elected him in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, to lead the Horn of Africa country that has been divided into fiefdoms ruled by rival warlords since 1991.

On Wednesday, he named Prof Ali Muhammad Gedi as his new prime minister, 10 days ahead of a deadline set by the country's interim constitution for the president to name a prime minister. Gedi was a prominent member of the political arm of the United Somali Congress, one of the armed groups that overthrew former president Muhammad Siyad Barre.

Somalia ceased to function as a modern state in 1991 when armed groups overthrew the regime of Barre, precipitating a ruinous civil war that saw numerous warring warlords and their militias carve the country into fiefdoms.

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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