From: Berhane Habtemariam (Berhane.Habtemariam@gmx.de)
Date: Wed Nov 19 2008 - 06:45:45 EST
Q & A - Somalia's prime minister defends government
Nur Hassan Hussein says the top priority is the reconciliation process, but progress is slow 'in an atmosphere of many problems.'
By Edmund Sanders
November 19, 2008
Reporting from Nairobi, Kenya -- Islamic insurgents already controlling most of southern Somalia now stand on the outskirts of the nation's capital, Mogadishu. Despite the presence of 20,000 Ethiopian troops for security, President Abdullahi Yusuf has stated that the government could collapse. And suspected Somali pirates repeatedly draw international attention for hijacking ships off the East African coast.
Amid the chaos, Prime Minister Nur Hassan Hussein, part of the United Nations-recognized transitional government formed in 2004, sat down Tuesday with The Times to discuss the troubled Horn of Africa nation.
Q: President Yusuf says, "There is no government." How bad is it?
We are very sorry to hear from the president that there is no government. Definitely there is. The parliament is there. The president is there. The federal institutions are still alive. Our top priority is the reconciliation process [implementation of a peace deal signed in August in Djibouti with a leading opposition faction]. We believe it is the key for peace in Somalia. Without this, chaos and lawlessness will continue.
Q: Why has the government allowed insurgents in recent weeks to recapture so much territory without soldiers putting up a fight?
We are trying to provide a secure environment, but there are difficulties. It's happening in an atmosphere of many problems. The internal crisis among top leaders is contributing. Once the crisis is solved, this will not be a big issue. The government, together with foreign troops -- the Ethiopian [support] troops and the [U.N.] troops -- will be able to stabilize the country.
Q: Are you worried that insurgents might attack Mogadishu?
Absolutely not. Mogadishu is well protected.
Q: Insurgents appear divided into two groups: those joining the Djibouti reconciliation deal, led by former Islamic Courts chairman Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed, and those rejecting it, including the Shabab militia responsible for recent attacks. Will these divisions hurt the peace process?
Definitely the opposition has divided. As a result, today insurgents are coming from here and from there, trying to announce their existence by saying, "We are here. You cannot ignore us. Either make your process more inclusive or we will act."
So I think this can be a manageable situation if the internal crisis of the government can be resolved.
Q: Are you prepared to sit down with Shabab leaders or Sheik Hassan Dahir Aweys, an influential Islamist who has rejected peace talks and whom the U.S. has accused of supporting terrorism?
Our doors are open for peace and reconciliation. We are not excluding anyone to join us.
Q: What about those people the U.S. considersterrorists or who have pledged allegiance to Al Qaeda?
Well, terrorists will not join us. The people linked to terrorists are using innocent young people, by offering them money. We have to do our best to attract these young people and create for them a secure environment with jobs and training.
Q: Some would like to see Sharif, who was often called a moderate inside the Islamic alliance that briefly controlled southern Somalia in 2006, become prime minister. Are you prepared to step down?
I've repeated many times that my position as prime minister is not important. I'm ready to step down when it is in the interest of the country.
Q: Do you think Yusuf should step down?
Yes, I agree that the president remains the problem of this country. If the transitional institutions are not delivering, it is because of the obstacles our president is creating. Instead of leading us to peace and stability, he wants to keep the country a hostage of the current situation.
Q: Is that why the government has failed to accomplish any of the key benchmarks established under its charter, such as a new constitution, an election commission, election laws and a census? The election is scheduled for next year.
The constitution draft is almost ready. The process is continuing, but slow because of the crisis.
Q: What role will Islamic law or Sharia play in the new constitution?
Sharia is very important in Somalia. The Somali people are 100% Muslim and believe normal life is based on Sharia. So our constitution will be based on Sharia law. Any article in the constitution not in line with Sharia law will be null and void.
Q: How strict an interpretation do you envision and how will you balance that with human rights? For example,will a woman accused of adulterybe stoned?
I think there would not be any problem because the constitution respects human rights and Sharia respects human rights.
Q: So would a woman be stoned?
No, no. I don't want to anticipate any points on that. This I leave for the constitutional experts engaged in the draft. It will be submitted to the population and they will be the ones deciding.
Sanders is a Times staff writer.
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