Somalia’s interim president says an upcoming round of peace talks with the country’s armed opposition will not include any discussion on the presence of Ethiopian troops in the war-torn Horn of Africa nation.
President Abdullahi Yusuf, who arrived in New York for a UN Security Council session, told the BBC Somali Service on Wednesday that « terrorists » forced the Ethiopian army to come to Somalia in the first place.
« These terrorist men would not stop attacks against Ethiopia and the [Somali] government, so the Ethiopians are defending themselves, » President Yusuf said.
He specifically named al Shabaab, the armed wing of the Islamic Courts movement, as a terrorist group that the government will not negotiate with.
Last month, the U.S. government added al Shabaab on its list of international terror groups.
President Yusuf said that the negotiation talks with the Eritrea-based opposition group, the Alliance for the Re-liberation of Somalia (ARS), will not discuss the legitimate existence of the Somali transitional federal government (TFG) and its national constitution.
Further, the talks will not include any topic regarding the posts of President, Prime Minister or the Speaker of Parliament, saying: « A President is elected, but does not come to power through the barrel of a gun. »
The Somali leader indicated he plans to persuade the UN Security Council to approve a proposal to deploy a 28,000-strong international peacekeeping force to replace Ethiopian troops and a short-handed African Union peacekeeping force currently deployed in the country.
According to President Yusuf, the international community must take an active role to solve the prevailing humanitarian and political crisis in Somalia following more than 17 years of armed conflict.
A senior ARS opposition figure indicated this week that the first round of peace talks with the interim government scheduled for May 10.
The Ethiopian army invaded southern and central Somalia in December 2006, after the Islamic Courts movement that ruled the capital Mogadishu at the time attacked the Yusuf government’s seat of power in the inland city of Baidoa.
The Islamist militia was routed out of Mogadishu within two weeks, but the group has reorganized itself into a guerrilla outfit and is largely responsible for a relentless insurgency that has killed thousands of people and severely crippled the Somali government’s ability to rule the country.
Exiled Islamist leaders are key members of the ARS opposition alliance, which also includes former lawmakers in Yusuf’s interim government.