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New Somali President Pledges to End Violence; Panelists Call for Rule of Law, Economic Development

'Differences can be resolved,' President Ahmed tells VOA

Washington, D.C., February 18, 2009 - Somalia's new President, in an interview with the Voice of America (VOA) today, pledged to improve his country's security situation as a panel of experts said the country needs the rule of law and economic development.

"There is no need to spill more Somali blood," said Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed, elected by Parliament to the presidency last month. "The idea we want to sell now is that whatever differences someone has can be resolved," Sharif said in an interview with VOA in Somalia. A portion of the interview was played during a VOA panel discussion entitled Challenges Facing Somalia.

The discussion, organized to mark the 2nd anniversary of VOA's Somali Service, focused on the importance of ending the violence that has marred efforts to unify Somalia for nearly two decades. Competing warlords, the radical Al-Shabab movement and lawlessness have combined to make Somalia dangerous and poor.

"The statistics tell the story," said Abdiweli Mohamed Ali, a professor at Niagara University in New York. He said Somalia remains one of the poorest countries on earth with a "total lack of security," a per capita annual income of $226 and life expectancy of 47 years. Somalia's new government must create an environment that supports rule of law, respect for private property and economic incentives, he said, adding the clan-oriented government bureaucracy should be reformed.

Abdi Ismail Samatar, professor at the University of Minnesota, said the best solution to improve security was to "create an indigenous police force, 15,000-strong and train them to keep and ensure security."

Karl Wycoff, acting Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Africa, said the U.S. Government wants to help find ways to reduce the level of violence, which, among other things, has helped stymie the flow of humanitarian assistance. He said the United States is part of an international contact group that seeks to end piracy off the coast of Somalia and bring pirates to justice on land.

Of the Al-Shabab movement, Terrence Lyons, professor at George Mason University, said the hope is that the moderate Islamist government of Sheik Ahmed will be able to marginalize the extremists.

Sheik Ahmed said his other goals include good governance for the country, improving the humanitarian situation and advancing social services.

VOA's Somali Service broadcasts three hours daily, seven days a week.

The Voice of America, which first went on the air in 1942, is a multimedia international broadcasting service funded by the U.S. government through the Broadcasting Board of Governors. VOA broadcasts approximately 1,500 hours of news, information, educational, and cultural programming every week to an estimated worldwide audience of more than 134 million people. Programs are produced in 45 languages.

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