Nur « Adde » Hassan Hussein, Somalia’s interim Prime Minister, is in Djibouti where a peace conference opened earlier this week with the Alliance for the Re-liberation of Somalia (ARS), an anti-Ethiopia opposition coalition led by former Islamic Courts executive chief Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed.
On Thursday, two committees composed of TFG and ARS representatives met in Djibouti City to discuss security and political issues.
The Djibouti Agreement, signed on June 9, called for the establishment of a Joint Security Committee and a Joint Political Committee, both of which held their first meetings this week.
TFG representatives in the Joint Security Committee proposed that government troops and Islamist rebels be gathered together at a single military camp, something ARS officials rejected outright, insiders in Djibouti City tell Garowe Online.
Security is a « complicated issue, » the source added, while expressing concern about what could happen if two groups of fighters who were on opposite sides of an ongoing, 21-month war are placed in the same facility.
Generally, closed-door discussions among members of the Joint Political Committee have been described as less tense, with both sides focusing on the constitution, the establishment of a local government for Mogadishu and the fate of hundreds of thousands of civilians who fled the insurgency since January 2007.
The talks are being observed by UN Special Envoy Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah and the International Contact Group for Somalia, which includes the U.S. government.
Abdirahim Isse Addow, the Islamic Courts’ spokesman, told Mogadishu-based media that the group does « not recognize » the ongoing talks in Djibouti.
Somali insurgents pledge ‘war’
« The ongoing peace process in Djibouti is intended to weaken the jihad we are waging in Somalia and it comes at a time when victory is near, » Addow said.
Islamist fighters inside Somalia will continue the guerrilla war against the TFG and its Ethiopian military backers to showcase to the world opposition to the Djibouti Agreement, he added.
Sheikh Omar Iman, a senior Islamic cleric based in Eritrea, described the ongoing TFG-ARS talks as « a play » that will have no real impact on peace in Somalia.
« A ceasefire in Somalia is needed, but Ethiopian troops must withdraw to their side of the border first, » said Sheikh Omar, who is part of the ARS faction in Eritrea led by Islamist hardliner Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys, who has strongly opposed the Djibouti Agreement.
TFG and ARS delegates in Djibouti are scheduled to finalize the Djibouti Agreement and declare a ceasefire sometime this month, sources said.
However, it remains unclear how an effective ceasefire can be implemented across Somalia when militants spearheading the anti-Ethiopia insurgency, including al Shabaab, have sworn to continue the guerrilla war regardless of the peace deal.
Nearly 9,500 people have been killed in Somalia since the Ethiopian invasion in late 2006, according to a local human rights group.
Hundreds of thousands of civilians have also been displaced from their homes, especially in the capital Mogadishu, which is the epicenter of the insurgency.
Aid agencies estimate that 2.5 million Somalis are in need of food assistance, while warning that the figure could rise by year’s end.
Somalia, in Africa’s Horn, has been in political turmoil since the 1991 overthrow of longtime dictator Gen. Siad Barre.