December 26, 2006

Local Ethiopians, Somalis can only watch and worry

Pioneer Press

Zebene Seyoum worried so much about his family in Ethiopia on Sunday that he went to the Addis Market in Minneapolis to buy a phone card.

The St. Paul man said he planned to call his family to "find out how they feel, comfort them, tell them everything's going to be all right."

Others in the Twin Cities' Ethiopian and Somali communities expressed similar concerns about their loved ones Sunday as word came that Ethiopia had sent warplanes to bomb southern Somalia, where Islamic militants control much of the territory in their struggle with the war-torn country's interim government. Although sentiment about how it ought to be done varied, people from both countries agreed that removing the Islamic fundamentalists from Somalia was critical.

"They are terrorists, and they are small-minded," Seyoum said.

The Somali community is divided, said Omar Jamal, executive director of the Somali Justice Advocacy Center in St. Paul.

"Some of the community believe the fight now is a legitimate one, to kick the terrorists out of the country," he said. "Some people are against it; they feel it's an invasion of the country."

Jamal said he doesn't believe the situation will affect relations between Ethiopians and Somalis locally.

Minnesota is home to the largest population of Somalis nationwide, estimated by the state at 25,000 and by community leaders to be as many as 60,000. Ethiopian leaders estimate as many as 20,000 Ethiopians are living in the state.

Somali immigrant Mohamud Noor said he believes what is happening is "a terrible thing."

"Ethiopia shouldn't be meddling with Somali issues," said Noor, a Council on Black Minnesotans board member. "The international world should stop it."

Although Ethiopian immigrant Samson Benti said he wants the conflict to end as soon as possible, he believes his native country — which is dominated by Christian leaders and a Christian army — did what it had to do to protect its borders and its people.

"Hopefully, it was the right thing to do," said Benti, of Minneapolis. "We're there to possibly help the Somali people, but we don't need war. We need economic strength and peace in our country."

People from both countries are concerned about tensions spreading in the Horn of Africa.

"I think everybody's worried because this is a very dangerous war. We don't want to see it escalate," said Redwan Hamza, Oromo Community of Minnesota spokesman. Many Ethiopians in Minnesota are of Oromo ethnicity.

Noor said he last spoke with his family in Somalia six days ago. Some were trying to move to more secure places, and others were hoping to leave the country, he said.

"I am very much concerned for my family and for the innocent who are going to pay the price for this war," he said.

Mara H. Gottfried can be reached at 651-228-5262 or

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