By Omar Hassan
DJIBOUTI, May 11 (Reuters) – Rare peace talks between Somalia’s interim government and opposition exiles have made a slow start in Djibouti, but a senior U.N. official said he was encouraged both sides had turned up.
« I am more than hopeful, the Somalis who I met today are committed to peace and reconciliation and they are ready to do it for the sake of Somalia, » the U.N. envoy to Somalia, Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, told reporters in Djibouti late on Saturday.
Delegates from the government and exiles based in Eritrea have yet to meet face-to-face, but Ould-Abdallah and Arab League officials shuttled between the two sides.
« We are going to work with them on how to advance commitment to peace and security, commitment to respect Somali sovereignty, integrity and independence, » Ould-Abdallah said.
More than 35 people have been killed and dozens injured in a fresh surge of violence in Somalia since Thursday, casting further doubt on the prospects for the negotiations.
Militants behind near-daily ambushes and roadside bombs targeting government troops and their Ethiopian allies are the remnants of an Islamist movement that was ousted by the government and its Ethiopian allies at the start of last year.
The leaders of that group, and other critics of President Abdullahi Yusuf, have since moved to Ethiopia’s arch-foe Eritrea and formed the Alliance for the Re-Liberation of Somalia.
They had repeatedly refused to meet government officials until Ethiopian troops left Somali soil. But last month they dropped that demand and agreed to send delegates to Djibouti.
Writing by Daniel Wallis;
Editing by Charles Dick