Thursday, August 03, 2006

Somali Governmental Split Deepens Over Peace Talks With Islamic Courts

Friday August 4, 12:53 AM

Embattled Somali prime minister refuses to resign


Somali Prime Minister Ali Mohamed Gedi has refused to resign, despite a mass defection of government ministers and mounting criticism over the deployment of Ethiopian troops to protect his toothless 18-month-old administration.

Government spokesman Abdirahman Mohamed Nur Dinari said Gedi was instead working to replace the 38 ministers who had left the 102-member cabinet in the past week. The defecting ministers calling for Gedi's resignation, even after he survived a vote of no confidence over the weekend.

"The prime minister is not going to resign. Instead he is consulting with the MPs (members of parliament) who support him and clan elders to replace the ministers who have quit," Dinari told AFP Thursday from the government's base in Baidoa, about 250 kilometres (155 miles) northwest of the capital, Mogadishu.

"There is no legal basis for the prime minister to resign," he said.

Agriculture Minister Mohamed Hassan Nur Shatigudud, a former warlord, became on Thursday the latest member of the government to stand down, bringing the number of defectors to 38.

"I want to make it clear that I am no longer in the cabinet," Shatigudud told AFP.

Dinari spoke as Somali President Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed and parliament speaker Sharif Hassan Sheikh Aden were holding private consultations.

The two have disagreed with Gedi on whether to engage in peace talks with the powerful Islamic militia that now controls Mogadishu and much of souterh Somalia.

Dinari said the row with Gedi had been caused by Yusuf and Aden. The latter had insisted on preparing a delegation to send to peace talks with the Islamists in the Sudanese capital, Khartoum, despite Gedi's call for the Arab League-mediated talks to be postponed.

"The prime minister made it clear that the two were not respecting the principle of separation of powers and that it was his responsibility to choose delegates," Dinari said.

The peace delegation has not left for Sudan and it is unclear if or when it may do so.

Pro-Gedi politicians blamed Yusuf for the problem facing the government.

"It is awful to see the top Somali political organs masterminding the downfall of the democratically constituted government," said Deputy Information Minister Salad Ali Jeeley.

"The president and the speaker (of parliament) are the ones who are spearheading the dismantling of the government," Jeeley said.

He added that Yusuf had met the defecting ministers before they resigned.

The Islamist militias, grouped under the Supreme Islamic Council of Somalia (SICS), hold sway in much of southern Somalia. This includes the capital, which they seized in early June after routing US-backed warlords in four months of fighting that claimed at least 360 lives.

On Thursday Islamists deployed armed fighters at police stations acrrso Mogadishu. The fighters, whose role is to serve as a police force, have the task of securing the city.

"The deployment of the armed men should secure the people of Mogadishu from violence," said Sheikh Abdullahi Ali "Al-Uteyba", the commander of the Mogadishu Islamic courts security unit.

"This is the first time the Islamic courts union has imposed a tangible security measure since they took over the capital," Mogadishu resident Ahmed Abbas told AFP.

On Wednesday, SICS leader Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys invited ministers who had resigned to join his movement and lashed out at Gedi for allowing Ethiopian troops into the country. The deployment of the Ethiopian forces, ostensibly to proect Gedi's government from a potential attack by the Islamists, sharply increased tensions between the Somali factions.

The Islamists say they will not participate in peace talks with the government until the Ethiopian troops withdraw. Some hardliners among the Islamists have advocated jihad, or holy war, against their northern neighbour.

The United Nations, the United States and other Western countries have warned that any interference by Somalia's neighbours might scupper efforts to achieve lasting peace in the country, which has been without a functioning central authority since the overthrow of dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991.

The Somali government, appointed in Kenya in late 2004 after more than two years of peace talks, was seen as the best chance for the lawless country to begin reunifying.

A total of 14 internationally-backed initiatives had earlier failed to produce a government. Analysts blamed the failures on unruly warlords, who obtained weapons and other forms of support from neighbouring countries despite a UN arms embargo.

Somali government split deepens

Somali President Abdullahi Yusuf has approved a trip by MPs to Sudan for peace talks with Islamic courts that control the capital, Mogadishu.

A spokesman for Prime Minister Ali Mohamed Ghedi, who is opposed to the talks, told the BBC the president was usurping the prime minister's duties.

More than 30 ministers have resigned in protest at Mr Ghedi's stance.

Mr Ghedi's interim government is weak already, controlling little more than the town of Baidoa where it is based.

Mr Ghedi's spokesman, Abdurahman Dinari, told the BBC Somali Service that it was up to the prime minister, not the president, to decide whether to hold talks with the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC), and to nominate members to the delegation.

President Yusuf held a meeting with parliamentary speaker Sharif Hassan Sheikh Aden earlier on Thursday, during which he endorsed the plan by the speaker and other MPs to begin talks with the Islamists.

MPs said they were ready to leave for Khartoum for the talks.


However, the Arab League, which was to chair the proposed talks, is reportedly reluctant to do so if the government delegation is not properly representative.

The UIC, for its part, reaffirmed it will not talk to the government as long as Ethiopian soldiers are on Somalia soil.

Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, chairman of the courts' executive council, said the Ethiopian troops were invited into the country by the interim government, and the government should state its objective.

"We shall indicate our position regarding the Khartoum talks in the coming days. At the moment, I don't want to pre-empt any action since consultations continue," he said, quoted by the Somali Dayniile website.

Ethiopian troops were seen near Baidoa two weeks ago, supporting the interim government.

But on Wednesday, Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi denied his soldiers were in Somalia.

"I have heard of these reports but I reaffirm categorically that we do not have troops in Somalia," Mr Meles said in a BBC interview.

Eritrea also rejected reports that it has been sending arms to Islamist militia groups in Somalia.

"Eritrea firmly rejects all groundless accusations peddled against it in the past few months," a statement on the Eritrean government's Shabait website said.

"As underlined before, Eritrea has never seen Somalia as a proxy battlefield to settle scores with Ethiopia."

Prime Minister Ghedi's stance against the talks has left him increasingly isolated over the past week.

Four more ministers resigned on Thursday, bringing the total number of resignations to 37.

Since late last week a succession of ministers has left a government that once had more than 100 members, and Mr Ghedi narrowly survived a parliamentary vote of no confidence on Saturday.

Somalia has been without an effective central government since warlords toppled dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991.

Since then much of the country has been ruled by violence and clan law.

The UIC has been credited with success in bringing stability to Mogadishu for the first time in 15 years.

Story from BBC NEWS:
Published: 2006/08/03 18:11:07 GMT

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