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Defiant warlord speaks up

Published Oct. 9, 2005

Fugitive warlord Mohamed Farrah Aidid surfaced Tuesday night for the first time since U.N. troops attacked his headquarters six days ago. He defied the world body to arrest him.

"You know, I am here in the city of Mogadishu and I am protected by God and my people," Aidid told the Voice of America in an interview from somewhere in the capital.

"I am not worried about the (U.N.) search" for me, Aidid told Yusuf Hassan, a senior editor of the VOA's Somali-language service.

Yusuf said he was contacted by Aidid supporters who led him by car to the warlord in a circuitous route through the darkened streets of Mogadishu. Yusuf said he did not know Aidid's location.

Yusuf, a Kenyan of Somali descent, said Aidid appeared relaxed.

Beyond announcing his presence in Mogadishu and scorning U.N. attempts to find him, Aidid said nothing new. He reiterated his denial of U.N. charges that he was behind a series of ambushes that killed 24 Pakistani peacekeepers and wounded 58 others on June 5.

"They are trying to arrest me unjustly," he said.

Jonathan Howe, the U.N. special envoy to Somalia, ordered Aidid's arrest on a charge of crimes against humanity. Howe said Monday that United Nations troops were actively looking for Aidid but that the effort would take a back seat to efforts to restore the organization's humanitarian effort in Somalia.

"We're not going to have a hunt for Noriega, a "where's Elvis' situation," Howe said. He referred to the frustrating days U.S. troops spent searching for Gen. Manuel Noriega before arresting him after the invasion of Panama in 1989.

But Aidid's interview with the U.S. government broadcasting agency raised the specter of just such a scenario, with Aidid flaunting his presence and daring the United Nations to nab him.

Howe and other U.N. officials have indicated they do not want to risk another shootout with Aidid's militia in an attempt to arrest him. The air and ground assault on his headquarters last week cost the lives of five peacekeepers and wounded 46 more.

There has been no accurate count of Somali casualties, but estimates range into the hundreds.

Howe said the offensive weakened Aidid, making it possible to disarm Somalia faster and more forcefully and to secure the capital for aid and rehabilitation workers.

"In spite of the tragedy that has occurred . . . I believe this will be a stimulus for greater progress in Somalia," Howe said at a meeting of aid officials in Kenya.

U.N. spokesman Barrie Walkley said aid agencies had resumed food distribution to seven sites in the southern sector of the city, where deliveries were disrupted after the ambushes. He said he did not know when deliveries would be back to normal.