By Guled Mohamed
NAIROBI (Reuters) – Exiled Somali leaders are ready to start talks with the interim government but want the United Nations to mediate a ceasefire and head the dialogue, an opposition figure said on Wednesday.
Sharif Hassan Sheikh Adan, the former speaker of Somalia’s parliament, said opposition leaders based in Eritrea had agreed to send 15 members to meet a similar number of officials from the Ethiopian-backed government in Djibouti on May 10.
If the talks go ahead, it would be the first time the warring Somali factions have met since 2006 peace talks in Sudan that collapsed before Ethiopian military forces routed an Islamist movement from the capital Mogadishu.
“The two committees will discuss how Ethiopian troops can leave our country … We hope for the best,” Adan told Reuters in a telephone interview, speaking on behalf of the Asmara-based Alliance for the Re-Liberation of Somalia (ARS).
He said he also wanted a small African Union peacekeeping force of soldiers from Uganda and Burundi to leave Mogadishu.
“The Somali problem cannot be solved militarily,” he said.
Formed late last year in Eritrea, the ARS includes leaders of the ousted Islamist movement, dissident legislators and members of the Somali diaspora opposed to the government. Remnants of the sharia courts group who stayed behind in the capital are blamed for an Iraq-style insurgency of mortar attacks, assassinations and roadside bombs targeting government forces and their Ethiopian allies.
The ARS has always insisted its leaders would not meet President Abdullahi Yusuf’s government until Ethiopian troops had left Somali soil. But Adan said the plan for talks in Djibouti next month was not a climb-down.
“We want the United Nations to mediate a ceasefire and lead the talks,” he said.
“We’re a country under occupation. We do not enjoy the freedom to agree on anything, unless the occupying Ethiopian forces leave our country.”