Somali foes issue joint humanitarian plea

The Somali government and the main political opposition issued a rare joint statement on Friday calling on all sides to allow humanitarian access to the country’s war-torn population.

The two sides said they “call on our supporters and on all Somalis to put aside their differences to facilitate unhindered humanitarian access and the delivery of assistance to the people with immediate effect”.

The declaration, which highlighted “the continuously deteriorating human and humanitarian situation”, was distributed by the office of United Nations envoy to Somalia Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, who is mediating talks between the rivals in Djibouti in a bid to end years of chaos in the Horn of Africa country.

Last week, the United Nations said 2,6-million people in Somalia face acute food shortages and would require urgent humanitarian assistance to avoid a catastrophe.

The figure is expected to reach 3,5-million by year’s end because of a prolonged drought and fast rising inflation.

But the UN and aid groups have scaled down operations owing to increased insecurity, largely blamed on Islamist militants who launched a guerrilla war after they were ousted from Mogadishu by joint Somali-Ethiopian forces in early 2007.

Ould-Abdallah organised talks, which started on Monday, between the government and Asmara-based Alliance for the Re-liberation of Somalia (ARS), a group of Somali opposition elements, in a bid to end years of bloodshed.

He is seeking to build trust between the two sides, although Islamist commanders and allied hard-line clans are boycotting the talks as they did in 2007 when the last attempt to reconcile the political rivals failed.

Rival negotiators have not yet started direct talks but Friday’s joint declaration marked some progress in efforts to find common ground.

The Djibouti talks are being held against a backdrop of daily clashes between Islamist insurgents and Ethiopian-backed Somali government troops.

Islamists have said they will not negotiate with the government until the Ethiopian army, which rescued the embattled government in late 2006, leaves Somalia.

The country has been devastated by almost uninterrupted civil conflict since the 1991 ouster of former president Mohamed Siad Barre. At least a dozen peace initiatives have collapsed.—AFP

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