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Latest Somali Cease-fire Agreement Could Make the Difference

October 16, 1996

MOGADISHU, Somalia (AP) _ It is not the first time Somali faction leaders have agreed to stop fighting and talk peace.

But after six years of famine, civil war and a U.S. military intervention, a pledge this week by rival faction leaders to hold their fire may actually help bring the country closer to reconciliation.

Faction leaders continued work Wednesday on a cease-fire agreement that also calls for an end to the propaganda war and, ultimately, direct talks.

``The Somali people are tired of war. This is the feeling of the grassroots. The people want peace,″ said Mohammed Addo, an aide to faction leader Ali Mahdi Mohamed.

In south Mogadishu, a small group of residents, trapped for months by fighting inside a neighborhood known as Medina, took to the streets Wednesday in support of the cease-fire, which is to take effect at midnight Thursday.

Somalia disintegrated into fighting among factions in 1991 when dictator Mohamed Siad Barre was swept from power by forces allied to the same men who have agreed to the latest cease-fire: Hussein Aidid, Ali Mahdi Mohamed and Osman Hassan Ali, known as Atto.

With famine decimating the country, the United States led a U.N. mission in 1992 to get relief to Somalis cut off from supplies by the fighting between clans.

One member of the U.S.-led mission was the key figure in this week’s agreement: Hussein Aidid.

A naturalized U.S. citizen who served in the Marines as a Somali interpreter, Aidid was deployed from his reserve unit in California before it was learned that his father was Gen. Mohamed Farrah Aidid, the staunchest Somali foe of international intervention.

Eighteen Marines were killed trying to capture the general before the U.S. forces in Operation Restore Hope pulled out. The U.N. peacekeeping mission in Somalia finally pulled out in March 1995.

Aidid assumed power in August when Gen. Mohamed Farrah Aidid died from wounds received in a battle. His death gave rise to hopes that the departure of the uncompromising general could create a new impetus for peace.

Previous cease-fire agreements failed to end the fighting that continued in and around Mogadishu after the troops left. Ali Mahdi controls north Mogadishu, while Aidid and Atto have been fighting over the southern half.

The meetings marked the first time Aidid, seen as more flexible than his father, participated in direct talks with the two others.

As the leader of the most powerful faction, Aidid appears to hold the key to peace. Aidid’s rivals _ Ali Mahdi and Osman Atto _ have been inviting Aidid to face-to-face talks since he assumed control of his faction Aug. 4.

Apparently driven by concern that chronic unemployment, lack of business and relief supplies in his south Mogadishu stronghold might undermine his position, Aidid has begun to show signs of good will.

The agreement _ struck in Nairobi following a week of talks mediated by Kenyan President Daniel arap Moi _ calls for the dismantling of blockades within Mogadishu and removal of roadblocks on the outskirts of the city. It was not clear when the blockades would be taken down.

Representatives of the three factions are to continue discussions in Mogadishu to ensure the agreement is not violated, and on who will be the country’s leader.

A struggle among rival factions and clan leaders has carved the country of 8 million people into a collection of fiefdoms. More than 350,000 Somalis have died from the fighting and famine.

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