May 30, 2006

US moves diplomat critical of Somali warlord aid

By C. Bryson Hull

NAIROBI (Reuters) - A key U.S. official handling Somalia
has been transferred from his job after criticizing payments to
warlords that are said to be fuelling some of Mogadishu's
worst-ever fighting, diplomats said on Tuesday.

Fellow analysts in the close-knit community of Somalia-
watchers in Nairobi said the State Department transferred
Michael Zorick, formerly Somali political affairs officer at
the U.S. Embassy in Kenya, to the Chad embassy after he spoke

The move exposes a rift inside the U.S. government on how
to handle Somalia -- whether efforts to build peace should come
before counter-terrorism -- and the effect Washington's
perceived role has had in inflaming fighting there.

At least 320 people, mostly civilians, have been killed in
the anarchic city since February in battles between the
warlords, who dubbed themselves the Alliance for the
Restoration of Peace and Counter-Terrorism, and Islamist

"He really decided to take up the battle. He realised very
well what he was doing," a Western diplomat who is close to
Zorick and asked not to be identified, told Reuters.

Various other diplomats involved with Somalia, including
those from Washington's allies, have expressed frustration at
U.S. aid to warlords which they say has undermined Somalia's
weak interim government, seen as the best hope for peace there.

Zorick could not be reached for comment and e-mails sent to
his State Department address, which had previously worked, were
returned as undeliverable.

Bob Kerr, a spokesman for the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi, said
Zorick was due to leave his post in a few months but left early
in April by mutual agreement with Ambassador William Bellamy.

"There were no unwilling transfers," Kerr said. The embassy
in Kenya is also responsible for neighboring Somalia.


Analysts say Washington's widely believed links with the
warlords have had the contrary effect of rallying Islamist
groups and increasing support for them among Somalis, who are
not usually strong supporters of radical Islam.

The analysts say it has also strengthened the influential
Mogadishu Sharia courts -- which have brought a semblance of
order to parts of the lawless country -- against the

The diplomats said Zorick opposed a U.S. intelligence plan
to capture a handful of al Qaeda suspects believed to be in
Somalia, by paying warlords there -- among them ministers in
the government -- to hunt them down.

"He felt it was wrong in the sense that it didn't achieve
the objectives," the diplomat said.

Zorick was part of the peace process in Kenya to create the
Somali government, formed in late 2004 in the 14th such attempt
since dictator Mohamed Siad Barre was ousted in 1991.

The new administration has made little progress and stays
in the south-central town of Baidoa because it is too weak to
move to the capital. The pitched battles in Mogadishu have
emphasized its lack of control.

Another diplomat, who spoke to Zorick just before he left,
said he had grown frustrated that the embassy had often been
kept in the dark about Somalia operations. That had a bad
impact on Zorick's work with the government there, the diplomat

The United States has never confirmed its support for the
warlords, but has made clear it will work with anyone it
considers an ally in its counter-terrorism fight.

Ambassador Bellamy said last week the United States was
being "wrongly blamed" for fighting in Somalia and should be
credited for spending millions in aid and peace work there.

Washington has invested considerable military and
intelligence resources in the Horn of Africa, starting with a
base in Djibouti, and is known to operate in tandem with local
security services and Ethiopia in particular.

Somalia is a particular U.S. worry because of its total
lawlessness, and the that fact planners of the 1998 blasts at
U.S. embassies in Dar es Salaam and Nairobi and a 2002 bombing
of an Israeli-owned hotel in Kenya operated from there.