28 April 2009

Somalia: President Rules Out African Union Withdrawal

The president of Somalia's Government of National Unity has defended the presence of African Union peacekeepers (AMISOM), Radio Garowe reports.

Sheikh Sharif Ahmed, who the Somali parliament elected in January as president, is on an official visit to the Sudanese capital Khartoum, where he held talks with Sudanese President Omar Bashir.

Speaking on Nile TV, the Somali President said: "The withdrawal of AMISOM must be preceded by reconciliation."

He indicated that the current troubles in Somalia seem to be directing the country towards a new cycle of violence, while appealing to the international community to support the interim government.

"The U.S. government has pledged to support us in reinstituting our security forces, which is a good sign that the world is ready to support Somalia," President Sheikh Sharif said.

He noted that the armed opposition "includes pro-peace and violent groups," while rejecting criticism from Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys and Al Shabaab member Sheikh Hussein Ali Fidow. Islamist hardliners have accused Sheikh Sharif of being a puppet of the West.

He avoided giving a direct response when asked if his government would combat against the armed opposition, but noted the government had plans to retake security control of the country.

According to Sheikh Sharif, the Sudan government has promised to help train Somali police, which the Somali President welcomed.

Speaking about a controversial deal regarding Somali territorial waters, he said: "The deal between our [Somali] government and the Kenyan government is an understanding and we will present the document to parliament soon."

Since coming Somali president in January, Sheikh Sharif has been traveling around the world and has visited a number of countries, including Belgium, Turkey, and Sudan.

The armed opposition, namely Al Shabaab and Hizbul Islam, have vowed to continue the anti-government insurgency until AMISOM peacekeepers withdraw from Somali soil.

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