15 November 2006

Somalia: Islamists Agree to Talks

Mogadishu — Somalia's Islamist rulers have agreed to unconditionally resume talks with the transitional government.

The Islamic Courts Union (ICU) also said it would reconsider its opposition to Kenya co-chairing the talks in Khartoum, Sudan.

Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys addresses the media in this file picture. The Islamic Courts Union (ICU) has said it would reconsider its opposition to Kenya co-chairing the talks in Khartoum, Sudan.

A Kenyan delegation, led by the ambassador to Somalia, Mr Mohammed Affey, was in Mogadishu to resolve the issue of Kenya's part which the ICU had earlier opposed on grounds that Kenya was an ally of the Baidoa-based Transitional Federal Government.

The meeting held in Mogadishu was attended by nine top leaders of the ICU, including Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys, Sheikh Sharriff Ahmed and Prof Ibrahim Adow.

"Our position on Kenya earlier was because of your support for the TFG and your support for the lifting of the arms embargo to allow the deployment of troops, which we are strongly against. We will reconsider the position" said Mr Abdurahman Janagow, the first deputy chairman of the union told Nation.

"We still have an uphill task to convince the Union that Kenya is an honest and neutral arbitrator and that we cannot afford any hostility between any groups in Somalia. But the good news is that they have agreed to go back to Khartoum" said Mr Affey who was accompanied by Mr Mohammed Said Omar of the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (Igad) secretariat and Mr Mohammed Osman from the Foreign Affairs ministry.

The ICU agreed to go back to Khartoum without setting any conditions, but said it needed more time to reach a conclusion as to whether Kenya should co-chair the talks.

The Union had earlier set conditions before meeting with the TFG. One of them was the withdrawal of Ethiopian troops in Somalia and non involvement of Kenya in the Khartoum talks.

Another milestone achieved in the two and half hour meeting is the ICU's acceptance to meet with the Igad secretariat at its headquarters in Djibouti.

The ICU has never recognised the role of the regional body that initiated two and half years of Somali peace talks that culminated in the formation of the transitional government and a charter under President Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed.

Since their take-over of Mogadishu and much of the south of Somalia in June, the union has remained cautious about Kenya's role in the Somali crisis.

The Kenyan government has twice invited leaders of the ICU to iron out the matter but without much success.

The Khartoum talks, initiated by the Arab league, were aimed at averting what is seen as a road to war between the UN-backed government in Baidoa, 240 kilometres from Mogadishu, where the Islamists are.

With the talks failing to take off last week, tension between the two is still steadily mounting as evidenced by Sunday's heavy fighting in the central Somalia town of Bandiradley 600km from Mogasidhu, which saw eight people killed.

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