Somali Islamist leader commits to new peace plan

Somalia’s top exiled Islamist leader on Wednesday pledged his camp’s commitment to a new peace drive but warned the movement would keep up its struggle against what it calls Ethiopian occupation.

“Members of the international community are trying to help Somalis overcome their differences and we will do all we can to be flexible and achieve a lasting peace,” Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed said in an interview.

Sheikh Sharif (44) is the chairperson of the executive council of the Alliance for the Re-liberation of Somalia (ARS), an opposition umbrella group dominated by Islamists and based in the Eritrean capital, Asmara.

“The ARS met United Nations officials and other members of the international community in Nairobi; our engagement with them is encouraging,” he said.

Sheikh Sharif was the head of the Islamic Courts Union, a militia that ousted United States-backed warlords from Mogadishu in 2006 and briefly ruled large parts of the country before being defeated by Ethiopian forces last year.

Ethiopian-backed Somali government troops are still battling the movement’s military wing and allied clans, in a year-old guerrilla war that has left thousands dead and displaced hundreds of thousands.

The impoverished Horn of Africa country has seen more than 14 peace initiatives fail since the 1991 ouster of former president Mohamed Siad Barre.

Sheikh Sharif warned that his movement remained committed to its struggle against Ethiopia, which it accuses of conducting a Christian crusade in Muslim Somalia.

“Somalis are fighting a legitimate war, in order to gain their independence,” the cleric said.

“The fighting will continue until we achieve the result of a free Somalia. Our people are currently being colonised and are experiencing the worst living conditions in the world.”—AFP

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