Global Policy Forum

Somalia Looks to Include Islamists in Reconciliation


By Tom Mailit

May 20, 2007

Somali President Abdullahi Yusuf will allow members of his country's ousted Islamic movement to participate in the country's upcoming reconciliation conference-as long as they are selected by their clans and renounce violence, an Italian official said on Saturday.

Italian Deputy Foreign Affairs Minister Patrizia Sentinelli-the latest Western diplomat to visit Africa to push for peace in Somalia-called his decision an "important opening" and urged him to follow through on his promise. She spoke in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, after meeting earlier on Saturday with Yusuf in the Somali capital, Mogadishu.

Somalia's transitional government has touted next month's reconciliation conference as a chance for the Horn of Africa nation to begin healing after 16 years of violence.

In the past, Somali government officials have refused to invite representatives from the Council of Islamic Courts, which Somali troops-backed by Ethiopian forces-ousted from the capital and their strongholds in December.

Sentinelli said Yusuf told her: "'We assure you that the selection process and choosing of delegates will be done in a fair manner'." She also said that it was important to strengthen the 1 400-strong African Union peacekeeping force to ensure security in the capital-and to allow Ethiopian troops to withdraw because their presence in Somalia is "unacceptable".

Somali troops have been fighting remnants of the Council of Islamic Courts, most recently in March and April. At least 1 670 people were killed in that period and about 400 000 people have fled the capital since February.

Other Western officials have visited also Mogadishu in recent weeks, including an assistant United States secretary of state and a United Nations undersecretary general for humanitarian affairs, to press Somalia's government to allow aid workers to operate with greater freedom and also press the government to organise an all-inclusive reconciliation conference.

Somalia has been mired in chaos since 1991, when warlords overthrew dictator Mohamed Siad Barre and then turned against each other. The current administration, called the Transitional Federal Government, was established in 2004 with backing from the UN, but has struggled to assert any real control.

Just weeks ago, the government-backed by Ethiopian troops-declared victory over Islamic insurgents who have vowed to launch an Iraq-style guerrilla war unless the country becomes an Islamic state.

More Information on the Security Council
More Information on Somalia
More Information on Ethiopia and Eritrea


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