Somali PM says little hope of talks with insurgents


Somalia‘s prime minister says there is little hope of negotiating with hardline Islamist insurgents because they had no political agenda and just wanted to use the Horn of Africa nation as a safe haven.

Prime Minister Omar Abdirashid Ali Sharmarke was appointed by Somalia‘s first Islamist president earlier this year and said in February he hoped to use dialogue to end the violence that has plagued the country for nearly two decades, Reuters adds.

But hardline Islamist groups that Washington accuses of having links to al Qaeda, along with foreign fighters, are battling government forces in some of the fiercest clashes the anarchic country has seen for months.

“I do not think they have a political agenda. I believe these foreign fighters want to keep this country in chaos so they can have a safe haven and a hideout,” Sharmarke said overnight.

“I don’t think there is a chance to just sit with them and discuss issues with these people. The only way to deal with them that they can understand is to fight, and we are prepared to eradicate them,” he told Reuters in an interview.

The United Nations says there are hundreds of foreign fighters from Africa, Asia and elsewhere in the rebel ranks. Neighbouring states and Western security forces fear the country could become a base for al Qaeda-linked Islamist militants.

Somalia‘s nine million people have paid a heavy price for the chaos and violence. More than one million live as internal refugees and hundreds of thousands have poured across the borders into neighbours Kenya, Ethiopia and Djibouti.

Piracy is rampant off Somalia with nearly 30 hijackings so far this year in some of the world’s busiest sea lanes. Naval vessels from the United States, EU and other nations have been drawn into patrolling the waters off Somalia.

Sharmarke said government forces were chasing some 300 foreign fighters in the ranks of hardline group al Shabaab out of Mogadishu, but there were more outside the capital.

“Shabaab and its foreign fighters can never govern. They can go to a town, hit and run, destroy it and terrorise the people, but these people have no capacity, capability and moral support to govern,” he said.

“I still wonder how people can keep fighting with no objectives. On top of that they have failed to use religion as a tool. These guys have violated every principle in Islam, and still claim they are Islamists.”

Al Shabaab fighters control much of southern and central Somalia. While they have brought security to some areas, their strict interpretation of Islamic law has angered some Somalis who are traditionally more moderate.

This week, al Shabaab and allied group Hizbul Islam have been fighting the Sunni Islamst group Ahlu Sunna Waljamaca, which objects to acts against Islam such as the killing of religious leaders and the desecration of graves.

Sharmarke blamed Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki for supplying the insurgents with weapons. Earlier on Wednesday, the east African bloc IGAD called on the United Nations to impose immediate sanctions on Eritrea.

Eritrea said earlier this month it was sick of the persistent accusations and in turn accused Western powers of interfering in Somalia and fuelling strife.

“We have enough evidence that Eritrea is supplying weapons to Somali factions, so many flights have actually arrived. And that is very sad,” said Sharmarke.