Yet Somalia is still rife with small arms. So ingrained in today's Somali culture, guns are considered a measure of wealth.


News Analysis

SOMALIA: FOCUS on order to ban weapons



- The Transitional National Government (TNG) has issued a directive banning the carrying of weapons on the streets of the capital Mogadishu, a senior TNG official told IRIN on Monday. The directive, which was issued by the council of ministers on 23 January, was already being enforced by the police, with the help of the army, according to Mogadishu police chief, Abdi Hasan Awale Qeybdid. He said the order was mainly aimed at "freelance militia and bandits, who make a habit of carrying weapons on the streets and use them for robbery or extortion". "We have the capacity to carry out and enforce the order," Qeybdid added.

The Mogadishu police, who have been patrolling the streets of the capital since March last year, have so far failed to bring crime under control, largely due to the fact that parts of the city are under the control of faction leaders opposed to the TNG. Qeybdid told IRIN that his men would not venture into areas of the city under the control of faction leaders, but warned that the police "will treat anyone who gives support to bandits as if he is one of them".

Faction Leaders Opposed

--Dealing with Mogadishu's many militiamen - who have been accustomed to exploiting the absence of authority for the past decade - will not be easy. There are about 10,000 militiamen in the city, according to UN sources. "They will not easily give up their weapons," Mogadishu businessman Abdiqadir Farah Mahmud told IRIN. "For many of them, using a gun is the only way they know to make a living." While disarming "these mostly illiterate young men", the government would also have find them an alternative to the gun, he pointed out. Analysts say the TNG has enough forces to carry out the operation, but whether or not the operation succeeds will depend on whether the government is able to pay the salaries of the police who have not received any wages for the past four months.

Other business sources remain doubtful as to whether the TNG will succeed in implementing its directive. "We have seen the TNG issue directives before, only to forget them later," one source told IRIN. The TNG had not shown "consistency, as far as law and order is concerned", he added. "As of now I am not optimistic - we will have to await the results." He also voiced fears that the move might be exploited by anti-TNG factions as an excuse for mounting attacks. The business community has provided the TNG with its most critical support since it was formed in Djibouti in 2000

Difficult to Implement

--Hostile faction leaders are displeased with the new directive. Muse Sudi Yalahow, one of the most prominent faction leaders in Mogadishu, blamed the current insecurity on the TNG, noting that it had set up demobilisation camps for militiamen, but had failed to pay them salaries, thus forcing them to set up roadblocks, according to 'Qaran', a Mogadishu daily. Yalahow, however, said that his militia would not erect roadblocks.

Police Commander Qeybdid dismissed criticism that the government was inconsistent in its approach to law and order. He told IRIN that the police "have been improving their work by the day", ever since they became operational last year. The police were currently conducting house-to-house searches for known criminals. "We have got them on the run," he added. He also dismissed concerns that the TNG's efforts to restore law and order could result in renewed fighting in Mogadishu.

The police were avoiding confrontation with factional militia by keeping out of opposition strongholds, Qeybdid said. "We have made it clear to them that this operation is not aimed against them, and that they should stay in their neighbourhoods." Meanwhile, the deputy commander of the armed forces, General Muhammad Abdi Muhammad, has called on owners of technicals (pick-ups mounted with heavy guns) to surrender their vehicles, Somali government radio reported on 26 January. "Current statistics show the existence of 34 privately-owned technicals" in the city, the radio quoted him as saying. IRIN NAIROBI, 28 Jan 2002 (IRIN)