Somalia

Somalis Bury Aideed, Scourge of the U.S. Army

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MOGADISHU, Somalia (Reuter) - More than 10,000 Somalis, many of them wailing, Friday attended the burial of powerful faction leader Mohamed Farah Aideed who died Thursday after being fatally wounded in clan fighting.

The Italian and Russian-trained general, whose ragged fighters humiliated the U.S. Army, was buried at his private residence at Haliwa in his south Mogadishu fiefdom.

His flag-draped coffin was carried through streets of south Mogadishu in a Toyota pick-up decorated with flowers, witnesses said. Hundreds of thousands of wailing Somalis stood by.

Islamic clerics recited the Koran at the burial also attended by his deputies and supporters.

Technical battlewagons took to the streets in salute of their fallen hero. South Mogadishu was tense but calm, the witnesses added.

Aideed's arch-rival Ali Mahdi Mohamed, who controls north Mogadishu and heads the largest clan coalition ranged against Aideed, issued a statement Friday calling for an unconditional cease-fire in the battle-wrecked city.

With the death of Aideed, Ali Mahdi Mohamed is Somalia's most powerful political figure.

The statement issued jointly with former Aideed aide, Osman Hassan Ali Atto, also called for a national reconciliation conference as soon as possible and warned Aideed's faction against laying claim to the presidency as the late general did.

Aideed led his motley militia against the might of the United States in 1993, driving out a U.N. peacekeeping force before declaring himself president of Somalia.

The Horn of Africa country has been without a central government since rebels overthrew President Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991. But they then turned their guns on each other.

Aideed controlled south Mogadishu until his death on Thursday and was a leading hurdle to peace efforts by the Organization of African Unity (OAU) and the United Nations.

Mogadishu was reported unusually calm after his death, and the 53-member OAU appealed for it to stay that way.

''The Somali people have suffered a lot and it is time to reconsider reconciliation and end the bloody conflict that has devastated their country,'' spokesman Ibrahim Dagash said in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

The radio station operated by Aideed's faction, which broadcast prayers and solemn music, said he was buried at home according to Muslim rites after Friday prayers.

His death came more than a week after he was hit by bullets in clan fighting largely sparked by his lust for power and optimists among Somalis and foreign aid workers hoped peace might now come to the region.

Aideed's supporters killed dozens of U.S.-led peacekeepers sent in 1993 to restore order in Somalia, gripped by famine and split by violence between rival clans.

His fighters downed two U.S. helicopters in October 1993, killed 18 U.S. Army Rangers and dragged some of the bodies through the streets of Mogadishu.

The U.S. forces pulled out in March 1994 after their worst losses in battle since Vietnam. The rest of the U.N. peacekeepers left in 1995, leaving lawless Somalia to its fate.

Leaders of his faction ordered a 30-day mourning period as Aideed's body lay in state at a mosque Friday morning.

Aideed's fighters with their ''technical'' battlewagons, have been on the defensive since early April.

They had slowly lost ground and their leader was reliably reported to have been badly hurt on July 24 in south Mogadishu in fighting against supporters of his arch-rivals Osman Hassan Ali Atto and Ali Mahdi Mohamed, who controlled the north of the city.

Aideed's radio said leaders of the USC-SNA (United Somali Congress-Somali National Alliance) appointed a 30-member committee to take charge of political and military affairs and hoped to announce a new leader soon. The titular head is Abdurahman Ahmed Ali Tur, vice president in Aideed's ''government.''

An aid official said prospects for peace in Somalia had probably improved with the death of Aideed.

''Normally one should feel sad when someone dies, but it's difficult. He has been responsible for so many other people dying,'' said the senior aid official who said Aideed was responsible for much of Somalia's continuing trouble.

Another senior international aid official said the death and resulting power vacuum was likely to trigger a ''jostle for power'' in the short term, but could benefit ordinary Somalis.

''For organizations such as the United Nations and European Union, his death certainly means the death of the major bogeyman,'' he said.

Copyright =A9 1996 Reuters Limited. All rights reserved.

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