Global Policy Forum

Somalia: Cautious Welcome for UN-Brokered Peace Deal


By Yusuf Ali

June 10, 2008

A 10-day peace process, engendered under the auspices of the United Nations, has resulted with Monday's announcement that the Somali government and its opposition have inked a peace agreement paving the way for "the cessation of all armed confrontation" across Somalia.

But already, a key rebel leader and a well-known outfit of Islamist guerrillas have rejected the agreement. Representatives from Somalia's Transitional Federal Government (TFG) and its opposition - the Alliance for the Re-liberation of Somalia (ARS) - met in neighboring Djibouti between 31 May and 9 June. The talks, mediated by UN Special Envoy to Somalia Mr. Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, were aimed primarily at finding a lasting resolution to the Horn of Africa country's 18-year-old armed conflict.

The peace conference ended with the signing of an 11-point peace plan, which calls for a 90-day ceasefire and sets a withdrawal timetable for Ethiopian troops protecting the TFG in the capital, Mogadishu. The presence of Ethiopian armed forces on Somali soil has been a key factor over the past 17 months, fuelling a bloody insurgency led by remnants of a once-powerful Islamic Courts movement and disgruntled militias belonging to Mogadishu's dominant Hawiye clan.

According to the agreement, the two sides agreed to terminate "all acts of armed confrontation" and to "request the United authorize and deploy an international stabilization force from countries that are friends of Somalia." The peace deal also calls for the withdrawal of Ethiopian troops: "Within a period of 120 days of the signing of this agreement the TFG will withdraw [Ethiopian] troops from Somalia after the deployment of a sufficient number of UN Forces."

For months, TFG leaders have called on the international community to deploy UN peacekeepers in Somalia, so that the withdrawal of Ethiopian troops does not create a security vacuum in the country. There are no exact figures for the number of Ethiopian soldiers present in Somalia. However, Addis Ababa admits to having only 4,000 soldiers there, while military sources place that number closer to 30,000 troops.

In May, the UN Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution calling for the possible deployment of a 28,500-strong UN peacekeeping force, pending an improvement in political and security conditions on the ground. The proposed UN force would replace a small contingent of African Union peacekeepers deployed in Somalia since March 2007.

Both Somali Prime Minister Nur "Adde" Hassan Hussein and ARS Chairman Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed have welcomed the peace agreement as a "historic opportunity" to end Somalia's long conflict.

But an influential rebel leader has rejected the agreement outright, telling the media that "the war will continue until the country [Somalia] is liberated from enemy occupiers [Ethiopian troops]." Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys, an Eritrea-based ARS member whom the U.S. accuses of having terror links, said "no one authorized" the ARS delegates to participate at the Djibouti talks in the first place. "The [Djibouti] talks ended as we predicted and we warned the Somali public about [this]," Sheikh Aweys said from his exile home in Asmara, Eritrea.

He indicated that the Djibouti accord was aimed at "hiding Ethiopia's losses in Somalia," while encouraging insurgents to continue the guerrilla war. In 2006, Sheikh Aweys and Sheikh Sharif were the twin heads of the Islamic Courts Union that ruled Mogadishu and many parts of southern and central Somalia. While the group faced accusations of harboring wanted terrorists, the Islamic Courts were widely credited for restoring the semblance of law and order in territories under their control.

In recent weeks, however, Sheikh Aweys and Sheikh Sharif have launched scathing accusations against each other through the media, mainly over participation at the Djibouti talks. Analysts see their split as being reflective of a larger divide emerging between the hardline and moderate wings of Somalia's Islamist movement.

Another Islamist splinter group, al Shabaab, has previously rejected the ARS and its leaders as "traitors" and vowed to continue the insurgency until "Ethiopian occupiers" and their TFG "puppets" are expelled from Somalia by military force. Analysts say al Shabaab ["The Youth," in Arabic] formed the core of the Islamic Courts' fighting force during the group's military successes in 2006.

An al Shabaab fighter who spoke with Garowe Online on the condition of anonymity said that, in his opinion, "this agreement cannot be implemented." Across Somalia and in the Diaspora, Somalis have come to view the Djibouti peace accord with cautious welcome. Ahmed Dirie, spokesman for the Hawiye Tradition and Unity Council, told reporters that the Djibouti peace initiative should not be dismissed. He appealed to the Somali people not rush to any judgment regarding the deal, while encouraging all parties to work towards the removal of Ethiopian forces from Somali soil.

"I was very happy when I first heard of the peace agreement...because I live in a refugee camp and this [agreement] might give me a chance to return to my house," said a 75-year-old woman who fled Mogadishu due to the insurgency. Abdulkadir Nur Arale, a Somali lawmaker, told reporters Tuesday in Baidoa that the "implementation of the agreement is the duty of the signatories, but the Somali people are satisfied that there is a deal."

A Mogadishu-based intellectual, Omar Dahir, suggested that many questions linger regarding implementation of the peace agreement. "Even though an agreement has been reached, I do not believe some of the clauses are achievable, such as the withdrawal of Ethiopian troops," he said, adding: "I do not believe Ethiopian troops will easily leave [Somalia]; also, I do not believe UN peacekeepers can deploy in Somalia so quickly." Mohamed Mohamud, chairman of the Somali Diaspora Network's Seattle chapter, said: "If this agreement succeeds, I see it as a victory for the Ethiopian Government because they will not leave Somalia defeated but leave because of this peace agreement."

"However, a chance at hope should not be denied," he added.

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


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