UN envoy calls big nations to help Somali people

Published on Sunday 15th June 2008

London: Somalis should not be punished for past mistakes of their leaders, the UN special envoy for Somalia said Sunday as he urged the big powers to help the east African country's rival factions implement a UN-brokered truce.

"The people of Somalia should not continue to be punished for past mistakes made by their leaders," said Ahmedou Ould Abdallah, who accompanied UN chief Ban Ki-moon on a 24-hour visit to Saudi Arabia.

Somalia has been wracked by violence since the 1991 ouster of dictator Mohamed Siad Barre led to a bloody power struggle that has defied numerous bids to restore normalcy.

In an interview with AFP on a flight from Jeddah to London, the UN envoy added that Saudi leaders fully backed the peace deal initialed by Somalia's two leading political groups on June 9.

The three-month truce deal was initialled by the government of Prime Minister Nur Hassan Hussein and the Alliance for the Re-liberation of Somalia (ARS), an opposition umbrella group dominated by Islamists and based in Eritrea.

Ould Abdallah said Saudi leaders had agreed to host a ceremony in Mecca at which the parties would formally sign the deal, most likely late this month.

The oil-rich kingdom, which is home to a large Somali exile community, is a major benefactor for all Somali factions, providing material, financial and political support.

The UN envoy said it was now up to the big powers, notably the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, and donors in Europe, Japan and the Arab world to help fund implementation of the accord.

"All Somali parties have initialled the agreement except two individuals who are regarded as terrorists by the UN Security Council and the Americans," he said in Jeddah Saturday.

Ould Abdallah, who is based in Nairobi but travels frequently to Mogadishu, played down fears that ARS member Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys, who has rejected the deal, could act as a "spoiler". He accused the influential radical cleric of "being manipulated by Eritrea."

Aweys, accused by the United States of links to Al-Qaeda, argued that the accord failed to set a clear deadline for the withdrawal of Ethiopian troops who have been propping up the transitional government since the end of 2006.

On fears that Somalia would continue to be fertile ground for a proxy war between bitter foes Somalia and Eritrea, Ould Abdallah said it was up to Somalis "to free themselves of all external meddling and instead work together in a spirit of tolerance."

Stressing the need to avoid "a security vacuum in the war-ravaged country, he called on the Security Council to authorise and deploy a UN stabilisation force that could pave the way for the withdrawal of all foreign forces.

Somalia's Ethiopian-backed transitional government is now battling a guerrilla war waged by Islamist militants ousted in 2006 which according to international rights groups and aid agencies has left at least 6,000 civilians dead and displaced hundreds of thousands.

"For a long time, my Western friends have been telling me that they could not act because of the Somalis's failure to find common ground. Now there is no excuse," Ould Abdallah said, urging the West "to do its part of the bargain by providing adequate resources to shore up the deal."

Meanwhile UN chief Ban Ki-moon said after talks with Saudi King Abdullah that Riyadh views the truce as a "breakthrough."

"Saudi Arabia has been playing a very important role on this issue," the UN boss added.

The Djibouti accord notably calls for the establishment of a joint security committee to ensure implementation of security arrangements as well as of a high-level panel to promote political cooperation, justice and reconciliation.

It also calls for the holding of an international donors' conference to fund reconstruction and development.

Under the deal, Ethiopians troops, who since their arrival have knocked out Islamists from south and central Somalia, are to withdraw after the UN deploys peacekeepers within 120 days of the armistice taking effect.

The African Union has deployed some 2,600 peacekeepers in Somalia -- short of the pledged 8,000 troops -- but they have failed to stem violence.