Somalia: Islamists and gov't to hold talks

Feb. 11, 2008 at 5:10 PM
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WASHINGTON, Feb. 11 (UPI) -- Leaders of the Islamic opposition in Somalia are in Cairo, possibly for talks with the country's current Ethiopian-backed government, according to one report.

Garowe Online, a Web news service based in the semiautonomous Puntland region of Somalia, said Monday that Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed, the chairman of the opposition umbrella group the Alliance for the Re-liberation of Somalia, led a delegation to the Egyptian capital at the weekend.

It said the delegation included Sharif Hassan Sheik Adan, former speaker of the Somali Parliament, and that they would meet with Sheik Hassan Dahir Aweys, the leader of the Islamic Courts Union, the loose coalition of Islamist groups that ruled Somalia until the end of 2006.

Garowe said the opposition had been invited by the Egyptian government and the Arab League "to prepare for talks with the Somali government."

The Web site said, citing "independent observers," that diplomatic efforts to get the two sides together had intensified in recent days, following the decision of the most radical of the Islamist groups, the Shebab al-Mujahedin, to break with the Islamic courts.

Separately Garowe online reported that the courts' leaders were meeting this week in Dhobley, in the Lower Jubba region of southern Somalia.

The Islamic Courts Union was booted from Mogadishu by the Ethiopian military, which restored the internationally supported transitional federal government -- a move the United States backed. But since then, a bloody insurgency against the Ethiopian occupation has cost more than 6,000 lives.

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