Somali speaker urges unity amid talk of war

By Mustafa Haji Abdinur

Mogadishu - The influential speaker of Somalia's parliament on Tuesday called for unity between the country's powerful Islamic movement and the weak transitional government in a bid to avert looming war.

As fears of conflict that could engulf the region grew after peace talks collapsed last week, speaker Sharif Hassan Sheikh Aden told Islamist leaders that coming together was the only way to help the shattered nation.

"We know that peace is the only thing we can have in order to succeed in life and unify our communities because they came apart during fifteen years of civil war," he said.

"We need to work together," Aden said, suggesting a form of unity government, a proposal rejected in the past by members of the weak administration who regard the Islamists with deep suspicion.

The Islamists' supreme leader Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys appeared to favour the offer made during talks in the dusty outpost of Afgoye, about 30km west of Mogadishu.

"I think what Somali politicians are keen on is the presidency and everybody likes that, but according to me, we can let one person have it then others can get their chances around," he said.

The meeting came on the third day of a mission by Aden to Mogadishu that was not authorised by the government.

The two sides are due to meet on Wednesday in Mogadishu and lawmakers accompanying Aden said they were optimistic the stalled peace process could be restarted.

But in the Kenyan capital of Nairobi, Somali deputy prime minister Abdullahi Sheikh Ismail said he held out little hope for Aden's mission, which the government had asked him to delay to co-ordinate strategy.

"If the speaker convinces the Islamists to stop their reckless military behaviour and if he convinces them to abide by earlier agreements, we will welcome this individual effort," he said, referring to a truce reached at a first round of peace talks in June.

"But for me, the efforts are futile and waste of time," Ismail told a group of lawmakers in a briefing on the failure of a third round of Sudanese-hosted peace talks at which he led the government delegation.

Aden is the most senior Somali politician to visit Mogadishu since the Islamists seized it from US-backed warlords in June. They have since taken control of most of southern and central Somalia, imposing strict sharia law.

Aden travelled to the city on Sunday, three days after the Sudanese-hosted peace talks failed over the objections of the government, which is based in Baidoa, about 250km north-west of Mogadishu.

After initial talks on Sunday, the Islamists said they were ready to resume talks with the government based on a proposal by Aden and that details of their acceptance would be worked out at a later date.

The Islamists had refused to meet face-to-face with the government in Khartoum, demanding first the withdrawal of Ethiopian troops allegedly in Somalia and the removal of Kenya as co-mediator along with the Arab League.

The government and Addis Ababa deny claims there are thousands of Ethiopian soldiers on the ground but Ethiopia has vowed to defend itself and the administration from the Islamists, some of whom are accused of al-Qaeda ties.

Somalia has been without a functioning central authority since the 1991 ousting of strongman Mohamed Siad Barre and the two-year-old government has been unable to assert control.

The world has been reluctant to recognise either, fearing that it would inflame further unrest in the country that has defied more than 14 internationally-backed attempts to restore a lasting peace. - Sapa-AFP

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