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Thursday, 4 April, 2002, 18:29 GMT 19:29 UK
Somalia's looted US flag returns home
Militiamen in Mogadishu
Warlords still control much of Somalia
United States diplomats have ended a visit to Somalia, where they urged faction leaders to fight terrorism and in return were given the American flag taken from Mogadishu's ransacked US Embassy.

It is a gift we worked hard to obtain. They're precious things.

Ali Sheikh Ahmed Abubakar
After talks with Somalia's transitional government and factions opposed to it, the leader of the US team, Zachary Teich, urged all sides "to ensure that the area under their control should not become a safe haven for al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups."

US officials have said al-Qaeda cells could take advantage of the lawlessness prevailing in Somalia.

But the BBC's Hassan Barise in Mogadishu says the most memorable part of the visit was the return of the battered US flag, embassy seal and a bronze eagle, which were looted from the embassy in 1990.

Hard work

The President of Mogadishu University, Ali Sheikh Ahmed Abubakar, returned the items as a goodwill gesture.

Zachary Teich
Teich is taking the returned flag back to Washington

"It is a gift we worked hard to obtain in Mogadishu," Mr Abubakar said. "They're precious things lost by the United States, but found again."

Mr Abubakar did not explain how university officials secured the items - but correspondents say they may have paid a large sum to gunmen who ransacked the embassy.

Mr Teich thanked Mr Abubakar and promised he would place the flag in the State Department building in Washington.

"And when reopening the US Embassy again in Mogadishu, this same flag will be brought back here," he said.

Spy planes

The American delegation was the highest-ranking to visit the country in recent years.

Pro-al Qaeda demonstration in Mogadishu
Bin Laden is popular with some Somalis

The two-day visit coincides with the start of British and German surveillance flights aimed at preventing al-Qaeda members from escaping to Somalia by sea.

Ethiopia has accused Somalia's Transitional National Government (TNG) of being infiltrated by radical Islamists linked to al-Qaeda.

But the TNG, led by President Abdulkassim Salat Hassan, has said Osama Bin Laden would not be welcome there and has pledged to help the US fight terrorism.

The TNG controls only parts of Mogadishu and pockets elsewhere in Somalia.

Most of the country is ruled by militia groups or self-declared autonomous regional governments.

Bitter memories

Somalia descended into war and anarchy after the overthrow of President Mohammed Siad Barre in 1991.

Mr Teich urged all sides to attend peace talks in Kenya later this month.

US forces in Somalia, 1993
The US intervention ended in tears

Somalia holds bitter memories for the United States.

It all started well, with 1,800 US marines landing on a Mogadishu beach in December 1992, in an effort to restore order and safeguard relief supplies.

But later the US troops tried to arrest the Somali clan leader, General Mohamed Aideed, and were dragged into a series of gun battles with Somali troops.

One battle ended in the horrifying spectacle of American corpses being dragged through the streets of the capital, Mogadishu.

Hundreds of Somalis died, as well as Pakistani and Italian UN soldiers, and foreign troops were withdrawn in 1995.

See also:

03 Apr 02 | Africa
US team visits Somalia
26 Feb 02 | Africa
Mogadishu racked by clan fighting
13 Dec 01 | Africa
Somali 'terrorists return home'
13 Nov 01 | Africa
Somali PM pledges reconciliation
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