Islamic rebel rejects Somalia peace deal

A leader of Somalia’s ousted Islamic movement rejected a United Nations-brokered peace deal between the government and an opposition alliance, vowing the militants would fight on.

The Somali government and the opposition Alliance for the Re-Liberation of Somalia agreed on Monday to end months of violence and set a timetable for the withdrawal of Ethiopian troops supporting Somalia’s fragile government.

The deal was an important step towards peace, but it remains to be seen whether hardline members of the opposition – who have denounced those who took part in the UN-led talks in Djibouti – will respect the accord.

“The so-called deal is rubbish and inconsequential,” Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys, who is on US and UN lists of terror suspects, said. “It will not in any way result in peace.”

Meanwhile rebels attacked a police station in the capital Mogadishu, yesterday, killing two police officers and a civilian, police said.

“The fighting was terrifying. We were taking cover for nearly an hour,” Mogadishu resident Abdiwali Abdulle said.

A sticking point in talks between the government and the opposition is the withdrawal of Ethiopian troops, who have been in Somalia since 2006 to help government forces battle Islamic fighters. The opposition views the Ethiopians as an occupying force.

Under the accord reached on Monday night, both sides agreed to “end all acts of armed confrontation” within 30 days and to act within 120 days to remove Ethiopian troops, once a UN peacekeeping force was deployed.

The UN Security Council has said it would consider deploying peacekeepers to replace African Union troops if there is improved political reconciliation and security.

The struggling AU force is authorised to have 8,000 soldiers, but currently has 2,600 from Uganda and Burundi.

Yesterday UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon welcomed the agreement.

“He commends the leadership of both parties for taking this important step towards a durable political settlement for Somalia, and hopes that other Somali groups and individuals will soon adhere to this agreement,” a statement from his office said.

Somalia has been in anarchy since warlords overthrew dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991, then turned on one another. Thousands of civilians have been killed and hundreds of thousands forced from their homes.

Somalia’s shaky transitional government was formed in 2004 with the help of the United Nations but has failed to assert real control over the chaotic country. The government called in troops from neighbouring Ethiopia in December 2006 to oust Islamic militants who had seized control of Mogadishu and most of southern Somalia.

The uprising that started soon afterwards remains a potent and disruptive force, and a continuing threat to the government, which is backed by both the United States and the European Union.

The country also is facing a worsening humanitarian crisis aggravated by high global food prices and drought.

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