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Somalis happy at Obama win, no word on foreign hostages

MOGADHISHU (Reuters) - Somalis expressed hope on Thursday that Barack Obama’s election to the U.S. presidency would help end anarchy in the Horn of Africa nation which Washington views as an important front in its ‘war on terror’.

Somalia has suffered 17 years of civil conflict, the latest manifestation a two-year Islamist insurgency against the Western-backed government and its Ethiopian military allies.

Kidnappings and assassinations are rife and there was no word on Thursday on the fate of six foreigners -- two Kenyan pilots and four European aid-workers -- seized in central Somalia the day before.

Ethiopia is the main U.S. ally in the region, and its intervention in Somalia since 2006 is viewed by some analysts as a proxy action for U.S. President George W. Bush’s government.

“We are very happy because we think Obama will eliminate Bush’s pressure and mistreatment of the Muslim world and Somalia,” said Mohamud Hussein, a local elder in Mogadishu.

“We believe he will help Somalis make their country peaceful and financially assist them. We were extremely happy to hear of his victory because he is an African.”

Obama faces a complex situation in Somalia, which some people dub an “African Iraq” and where a series of U.S. air-strikes have been targeting alleged al Qaeda suspects.

If the United States encourages Ethiopia to withdraw its troops, that may give ground to hardline Islamists who want to topple the government. But it may also encourage a U.N.-brokered peace deal under consideration between moderate Islamists and the government which hinges on Ethiopia’s exit.


Mother-of-six Hawa Aden, in Afgoye town outside Mogadishu, said she hoped the United Nations would intervene in Somalia, replacing the Ethiopians and a 3,000-strong African Union force.

“We hope he will withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq and deploy a U.N peacekeeping force in Somalia so that we can enjoy peace like other human beings in the world,” she said.

Mindful of its disastrous intervention in Somalia in the mid-1990s, the U.N. Security Council is reluctant to go in again, though it is studying options.

Somali government spokesman Abdi Haji Gobdon said President Abdullahi Yusuf’s administration was “very happy” with Obama and urged him to seek peace across the Horn of Africa.

He said the U.N.-brokered peace efforts, including a ceasefire the government and moderate Islamists signed in Djibouti last month, had created a good atmosphere.

An Islamist spokesman, Abdirahim Isse Adow, however, ruled out external intervention. “It is the Somalis themselves that create peace and not America,” he said.

Adow said his group, the Islamic Courts Union, was not behind Wednesday’s kidnapping of six foreigners at an airstrip near the town of Dusamareb and would help secure their release.

Two French women, a Bulgarian woman and a Belgian man working for Action Contre La Faim charity were captured along with two Kenyan pilots, sources say.

Aid workers in Nairobi and Somalia fear the militant Islamist group al Shabaab (Youth in Arabic) may be behind the seizure, the latest in a series of abductions, assassinations and attacks on aid workers in Somalia this year.

They were giving little information on the situation, for fear of jeopardizing efforts to release the six.

“We know and saw the group that kidnapped the two pilots and the four aid-workers, but mentioning the identity of the kidnappers will mean another problem,” said nervous local resident Mohamed Aden.

“I understand that they slightly injured a French lady who hesitated when the armed men took them at gunpoint.”

Kidnapping can be a lucrative business in Somalia, with hostages generally treated well in anticipation of a ransom.

Writing by Andrew Cawthorne; editing by Philippa Fletcher