Ethiopia has 'declared war', say Somali Islamists

Somalia’s powerful Islamist movement on Monday accused neighboring Ethiopia of “declaring war” on them, as they awaited the delayed resumption of peace talks in Sudan with the country’s weak government.

While they and mediators prepared for the late arrival of a government delegation, the Islamists renewed accusations that Ethiopia had sent troops to support the transitional administration and again rejected Kenyan mediation.

“Ethiopia has declared war on Somalia and has already made a large military incursion deep into Somali territory,” they said in a letter to mediators and international observers attending the talks in the Sudanese capital, Khartoum.

“That not only undermines the reconciliation process but also seriously threatens peace and security of Somalia and the whole region in general,” the letter said.

“Any new conflict will not only retard, but destroy the peace dividends and civic gains so far achieved,” it said, referring to developments since the Islamists seized Mogadishu in June and then rapidly expanded territory.

“We are [also] seriously opposed to the co-chairpersonship of Kenya in this peace process and we would like to be assured of acceptance of our points of view before the commencement of business,” said the letter, signed by the delegation of the Supreme Islamic Council of Somalia (SICS).

The text was addressed to the Sudanese hosts of the talks, the Arab League, the United Nations and the United States-created International Contact Group on Somalia, all of which fear all-out war that may erupt into regional conflict.

UN envoy for Somalia Francois Fall said he was confident that Arab and African mediators, as well as international observers in Sudan for the negotiations, would resolve conditions set out by Islamists to meet the government face-to-face.

“The international community members that are here to support the peace process will meet the Islamic courts to resolve the conditions laid down,” Fall told reporters at the talks’ venue, adding that such a meeting would also be held with members of the transitional government.

On the weekend, the Islamists said they would attend the talks but would not meet face-to-face with the government unless Ethiopia withdraws troops it has allegedly deployed to Somalia to protect the administration.

They also rejected Kenya as co-chair of the negotiations, accusing it of pro-government bias for supporting, along with Ethiopia, the deployment of a proposed regional peacekeeping force.

Mainly Christian Ethiopia denies reports it has as many as 8 000 soldiers in Somalia but acknowledges sending military advisers to help protect the government from “jihadists”, some of whom are accused of links with al-Qaeda.

Kenya was appointed this month to co-chair the negotiations with the Arab League, which had been the sole mediator at two previous rounds, after the government complained of Arab bias.

Kenya currently holds the presidency of the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development, a group of seven East African nations that brokered the formation of the government in 2004 and now plans to send peacekeepers there.

But the bloc is deeply split over the proposed mission, with members Eritrea and Djibouti opposing the force; Kenya, Ethiopia, Uganda, the Somali government in favour; and Sudan backing off earlier support.—AFP

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