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Taking Somalia Seriously Again

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In diplomatic circles mention of Somalia provokes embarrassment and avoidance behavior. During the three years since the withdrawal of American troops from Somalia, the US has minimized its involvement there and maintained a low profile.

That policy, a reaction to an intervention in Somalia that went awry, may have had some justification in the past, but the time is ripe for reassessment and for the US to contribute to peace in Somalia with minimal exposure. We owe it to Somalis and to ourselves to complete what we started in late 1992.

The US doesn't need to assume the role of peacemaker or peacekeeper. There are too many mediators stumbling over each other already. With encouragement from the Eastern African regional organization (IGAD), Ethiopia is the most energetic. But officials from Egypt, Yemen, Kenya, and Italy are also eager to be seen as midwives for a Somalia peace settlement.

While limited success has been achieved through these initiatives, Somalis see some of these actors as primarily serving their own interests. Moreover, the UN has been largely discredited in Somalia because of its mistakes in 1993-95. In contrast, the US still maintains considerable credibility, and Somalis lament the lack of US interest.

After seven years of civil war and five years with no government, recent developments give grounds for cautious optimism. Large parts of Somalia have achieved regional stability with reconstruction and economic revival already evident.

The three principal factional leaders in Mogadishu, Ali Mahdi, Hussein Aideed (the son of late Gen. Mohamed Farah Aideed), and Osman Ato, are in regular communication and seem increasingly inclined to work out their differences.

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