Global Policy Forum

Somalia: Business as Usual


By Abdurrahman Warsameh

International Relations and Security Network
June 19, 2008

A peace agreement signed in Djibouti may have missed the mark with alleged ambiguity and a lack of signatories, and for those with arms, it's business as usual. After 10 days of UN-sponsored talks in Djibouti, the Somali government and a faction from the opposition last week signed an 11-point peace deal intended to end the armed conflict within 30 days.

The Somali government and the opposition faction agreed to "the termination of all acts of armed confrontation," which "shall come into force thirty (30) days from the signing of this agreement throughout the national territory" and "is approved for an initial period of ninety (90) days, renewable."

The two sides did not meet face to face officially until the last day of the talks - a meeting mediated by the United Nations Special Representative (SRSG) for Somalia Ahmadou Ould Abdalla who has been shuttling between the government and opposition in an effort to bring them to a compromise.

The top leaders of The Alliance for the Reliberation of Somalia (ARS) opposition group were at the talks, but their presence caused the split of the ARS into two main factions, one led by the moderate Islamist leader Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed and Sharif Hassan Sheik Aden, the former Somali parliament speaker, and the second led by hard-line Islamist leader Sheik Hassan Dahir Aweys who opposes any talks with the Somali government as long as Ethiopian troops remain in Somalia. Aweys' faction boycotted the talks and rejected its results.

The talks were also boycotted and the agreement rejected by another insurgent group, Al-shabaab, which had been behind most of the deadly attacks on Ethiopian troops and Somali government forces and officials since 2007. At that time, Somalia's northwestern neighbor, Ethiopia, sent its army and tanks over the border to curb the growing influence of the Islamist-led movement, which it said was threatening its national security.

Fierce and deadly violence followed after the ouster of the Islamist movement whose leaders along with other disgruntled senior government officials went into Asmara, the capital of Ethiopia's arch rival Eritrea and formed the ARS, better known simply as "The Alliance." The Alliance's line until the signing of the Djibouti agreement was that they would not negotiate with the Somali transitional government until all Ethiopian troops were withdrawn.

Intentional ambiguity

The members of The Alliance who participated in the talks initially said they were talking not with the Somali government but with the international community about the withdrawal of Ethiopian troops. However, according to Farah Guure, a senior Somali commentator, the deal that resulted from the talks neither directly suggested Ethiopian troop withdrawal nor even explicitly included it as part of the ceasefire agreement.

"Everyone seems to have their own interpretation of the agreement. The Somali government says article 7 of the agreement does not imply the automatic withdrawal of Ethiopian troops from Somalia with the end of the 120-day timeframe until UN forces are fully deployed," Guure told ISN Security Watch in Mogadishu.

The opposition members who signed the agreement - including chairman of The Alliance Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed - have their own interpretation of Section "B" of the contentious Article 7, which says that: "Within a period of 120 days of the signing of this agreement the TFG (Transitional Federal Government) will act in accordance with the decision that has already been taken by the Ethiopian [g]overnment to withdraw its troops from Somalia after the deployment of a sufficient number of UN Forces."

That part of the agreement - concerning an issue that has kept the two sides apart for the better part of talks and led to the near daily bloody confrontation for the past 18 months - was deliberately shrouded in ambiguity in order to allow everyone to brag of a victory, says law expert Ali Dahir.

"But that ambiguity could lead to the collapse of the agreement, which has been seen as a first step in the right direction," Dahir told ISN Security Watch, "because in that section it is neither clear what the government is supposed to do as it is not the one who took the decision in the first place nor is it clear how many constitutes a sufficient number of UN forces."

Dahir said there was no guarantee that the UN Security Council would endorse the sending of the force to Somalia given the UN's other pressing requirements and commitments in Dafur, for example, which, unlike Somalia, has grabbed the attention of world powers, particularly the US, because of specific geopolitical considerations as opposed to humanitarian circumstances.

"Somalia also has a history of a failed UN peace mission in early 1990s when US-led UNISOM peacekeeping forces withdrew after a bunch of militias led by the former warlord Farah Aideed confronted the peacekeepers, killing 18 US servicemen and women," Dahir added.

Yusuf Ali Aynteh, political adviser for The Alliance chairman Sheik Sharif, told ISN Security by phone from Djibouti, that Ethiopian troops would start withdrawing from Somalia after a UN stabilization force began deploying.

"There is nothing ambiguous about the agreement: Within 120 days from the signing of the agreement the Ethiopian troops should start leaving Somalia when the first UN force sets foot on Somali soil, simple as that," Aynteh said.

Hussein Mohamoud Hubsired, spokesman for the Somali president, likewise says the terms of the agreement are clear cut. "Ethiopian troops would only withdraw when the Somali government is sure that a sufficient number of UN force are on the ground," Hubsired told ISN Security Watch in Mogadishu.

Despite its alleged ambiguity, the agreement was broadly welcomed by the international community. The US Department of State issued a statement welcoming the agreement and hailing "the commitment of both parties to take concrete steps to implement this agreement." However, it added, "the United States will give careful consideration to this proposal (deployment of international stabilization force), in consultation with the Security Council," suggesting that the US was not that fully converted to the whole idea of sending yet another UN peace mission to Somalia.

A statement on the Ethiopian Foreign Ministry website describes the agreement as "a positive development" and "a major achievement. "Under the agreement, Ethiopia is expected to withdraw its forces within 120 days during which time the UN is requested to deploy its forces. In fact, Ethiopia has already made it clear to the TFG that it will do this, and indeed will withdraw its forces earlier than the stipulated four months if conditions permit," the statement said.

Business as usual

Despite the stipulation in the agreement for the cessation of all hostilities within 30 days from the signing of the deal, both Ethiopian troops backing Somali government forces and the multitude of armed insurgent groups seem not to be concerned with the ceasefire. In fact, it has been business as usual since 9 June, with nearly 100 people killed and some 200 others wounded - almost all of them civilians - in various clashes in different parts of the war-torn horn of African nation.

"The Ethiopian troops have not been part of the ceasefire agreement nor have they been a signatory to it, just as the main and the most powerful group, the Al-shabaab who have boycotted the talks," says Guure, "so in their eyes they are not breaching the Djibouti agreement."

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


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