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RESPONSE TO TERROR

Somalia Assails U.S. Terror Allegations

Africa: Leader says fears of military strikes are hindering efforts for peace in his nation.

January 12, 2002|From Times Wire Services

KHARTOUM, Sudan — The president of Somalia's transitional government said Friday that his people had been "terrorized" by a U.S. propaganda campaign portraying the country as a possible haven for Osama bin Laden's followers.

President Abdiqassim Salad Hassan told Reuters television that fears of U.S. military strikes were hindering efforts to bring peace to the country, considered by Washington as a potential target in its war on terrorism.

"People are terrorized by this campaign of propaganda against Somalia," the president said in an interview in the Sudanese capital, Khartoum, where he was attending a summit.

"People are terrorized to see the largest country in the world threaten this poor country that has been ravaged by civil war for 10 years," he said.

The United States says it is gathering more intelligence on Somalia, fearing that Islamic militants may have exploited the lack of a strong central authority to pursue their activities far from the eyes and ears of government.

The Somalian president reiterated that there are no bases of the Al Qaeda terrorist network or other extremists in his country, and he appealed for help from Washington to stabilize his homeland.

"We want to unite our country, and have for that the help of the international community, so that Somalia will not be a breeding ground for future terrorists," he said.

Abdiqassim said that his fledgling government had set up a committee to combat terrorism and has arrested several suspects but that its efforts were being hampered by a lack of resources.

East African leaders concluding a two-day summit in Khartoum called on Somalia to rid itself of terrorists.

The summit brought together Abdiqassim and the leaders of Sudan, Kenya, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Uganda and Djibouti.

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