Somali Islamist leader against peace talks

Published on Friday 16th May 2008

Nairobi: Talks between Somalia's interim government and the opposition in Djibouti are a waste of time and no tangible outcome can be expected, Islamist leader Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys said on Thursday.


Speaking from Asmara, where he lives in exile, the former army colonel urged his allies from the Alliance for the Re-liberation of Somalia (ARS) attending the peace talks to walk out.

"I don't expect anything tangible to come out of the meeting," Aweys, 62, told the news agency. "What two or three people have agreed upon in a short sitting cannot be of good to the public ... It's just a waste of time."

Negotiations started at the weekend over Somalia's conflict pitting government troops and their Ethiopian military allies against Islamist insurgents, remnants of an ousted sharia courts group led by Aweys.

Asked whether his hardline stance might cause a rift in the ARS, Aweys said it would actually strengthen the group and help them foster a united approach towards ending the conflict.

"I wish to tell my brothers from the alliance they should come back so that we can first agree together ... The meeting was hastily planned and the main thorny issues are not addressed," he said.

Aweys said dialogue could succeed only if Somalia was freed from "Ethiopian occupation" and its people were able to enjoy freedom and justice.

"The solution is simple. Our enemy Ethiopia should be removed. We have a responsibility to first throw them out then we can organise a national conference after attaining freedom," the cleric-turned-politician said, Reuters report said.

Most Somalis resent the presence of soldiers from Ethiopia, Somalia's ancient rival. The government sought Ethiopia's help to recapture the capital Mogadishu in 2006.

Aweys was one of those behind Somalia's Islamic Courts Council which defeated U.S.-backed warlords in mid-2006, seizing Mogadishu and much of the south before allied Somali-Ethiopian troops ousted them six months later.

Despite gaining some popularity for restoring law and order, the Islamists fell out of popular favour for imposing strict Sharia law, whipping drunkards in public and closing down cinemas and beauty parlours viewed as anti-Islamic.

Aweys urged the world to treat the Somalis, deprived of effective central rule since the 1991 ouster of a dictator, fairly. He indicated change was possible with the U.S. president to be elected this year to replace George W. Bush.

"We would love America to be led by a man who would reduce the current problems in the world, who would ease the suffering of many oppressed people like us," he said.