December 17, 2006

Peace initiative seen as futile in Somalia

Peace initiative seen as futile in Somalia
Agreement between government, Islamic militia is 'symbolic'


A Somali legislator bypassed the government and signed an agreement yesterday to end hostilities with the country's powerful Islamic militia, a symbolic gesture that is unlikely to have any real effect.

Parliamentary Speaker Sharif Hassan Sheik Aden has made freelance peace initiatives before with the Islamists, but the government says that he no longer acts on its behalf. He is considered the government's most sympathetic leader to the Council of Islamic Courts.

The pact - which pledges to halt military action and resume peace talks - comes one day after President Abdullahi Yusuf said that peace talks with the Islamists are no longer an option, warning that the group is allowing al-Qaida terrorists to "set up shop" in the Horn of Africa.

"This is a new chapter and part of the terror group's plan to wage war against the West," Yusuf told The Associated Press from his office in Baidoa, about 155 miles from Mogadishu.

Tension has been mounting in recent weeks between the government, which has international recognition but little actual authority, and the Council of Islamic Courts, which controls most of southern Somalia. The United States has said that the Islamic movement has links to al-Qaida, an accusation Islamic leaders have repeatedly denied.

The Islamic Courts movement has vowed to start a holy war starting next week unless Ethiopian troops supporting the government leave Somalia. Ethiopia, a largely Christian nation, fears the emergence of a neighboring Islamic state and has acknowledged sending military advisers - though not a fighting force - to help the government.

The pact signed yesterday calls for "rejecting any interference in the internal Somalia affairs by the neighboring countries," a clear reference to Ethiopia.

Also yesterday, witnesses in Baidoa - the only town controlled by the government - said that Ethiopian troops fired at a civilian truck when it did not stop at a roadblock, killing one person.

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