Warlords sign ceasefire in Mogadishu

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The Independent Online
MOGADISHU - Somalia's two main warlords agreed yesterday to an immediate halt to fighting after two years of clan killings, famine and anarchy. Ali Mahdi Mohamed and General Mohamed Farah Aideed, under immense US pressure, agreed to a seven-point peace plan at talks in Mogadishu.

'The only dream that we have is to live in peace, and we are working hard to achieve it,' Ali Mahdi, the self-styled President, said after the talks. 'We will spare no effort to have peace in our country.'

Ali Mahdi spoke on the steps of his heavily-guarded headquarters where he was escorted at breakneck speed by US armoured vehicles after meeting Gen Aideed. 'We ask the Americans and the United Nations to disarm the Somali people because if you do not disarm, peace will not come back in this country,' he added.

The two men's feud, which followed their alliance to defeat the Somali dictator, Mohamed Siad Barre, in January 1991, has killed thousands. It has brought Somalia, where hundreds starve to death every day, to its knees.

The meeting between the warlords was held at the new US mission in Mogadishu. Minutes after the agreement was announced the two men embraced and shook hands. The meeting came only 48 hours after US marines landed in Mogadishu to ensure relief supplies reached Somalia's starving people.

In Baidoa, which has attracted thousands of the starving - and, more recently, armed men escaping the capital - gunmen vanished from the streets yesterday after reports that US marines were pushing towards the town.

Somalis arriving in Baidoa said marines were 25 miles to the east and closing in fast after landing at the old military air base of Bali Dogle, halfway from Mogadishu. But reporters who made the 200km road journey from the capital saw no sign of troops.

Aid agencies appealed for a swift military push on Baidoa after US marines and French paratroopers landed in Mogadishu at the start of Operation Restore Hope. On Wednesday night, gunmen went on a looting and shooting spree in Baidoa. Aid workers barricaded themselves in their compounds on Thursday night, fearing gunmen would go on a last-gasp spree before US forces arrived. They said up to 80 people were killed in the town centre earlier this week during fighting between followers of rival warlords.