Somalia’s president said that his UN-backed government will resume talks soon with armed rebels and other factions to end violence in the Horn of Africa nation.
“We will continue the open political dialogue that we have started with all Somali parties including the armed rebels,” President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed told the UN General Assembly.
The interim government’s attempts to restore central rule have been paralyzed by infighting and an Islamist-led insurgency. Fighting has killed some 18 000 people since the start of 2007 and has uprooted at least 1 million civilians. The chaos has also helped fuel kidnappings and piracy offshore.
“We intend to sit down at the negotiating table with these anti-government parties. This will take place as soon as possible and in any time and place in order to end the violence in our country,” he said.
“We will exert all the efforts we can to find a permanent political settlement for the struggle in Somalia to safeguard our sovereignty, the safety of our people and the unity of our land,” added Ahmed, a former Islamist rebel.
An al Qaeda-inspired militant group, Al Shabaab, controls large parts of south and central Somalia, a country mired in anarchy since the 1991 toppling by warlords of military dictator Mohamed Siad Barre.
Al Shabaab’s hardline militia was part of the Somalia Islamic Courts Council (SICC) movement which pushed US-backed warlords out of Mogadishu in June 2006 and then ruled for six months before Somali and Ethiopian forces ousted them.
Ethiopia entered Somalia in late 2006 to topple an Islamist movement in the capital Mogadishu, sparking an insurgency still raging despite the pullout of Ethiopian forces in January.
Washington and the United Nations accuse neighbouring Eritrea of sending arms to Somali insurgents battling the UN-backed government. Asmara denies the accusations.
Piracy linked to security
The Somali president said it was difficult to eradicate piracy in waters offshore Somalia without dealing with the security situation in the country.
“This means piracy will continue in one form or another as long as security in Somalia continues as is,” he said.
“We noticed pirate activity fell thanks to the collective global efforts but we still need more,” he added, referring to foreign navy patrols off the Somali coast since the turn of the year to prevent piracy in the Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean.
Somalia is dire need of urgent humanitarian aid from the international community for 3.76 million people including refugees, Ahmed said. It also needs help to rebuild its infrastructure and bolster security, through strengthening its internal security forces as well as sending in more African Union peacekeepers.
Pic: President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed of Somalia