- The Media Line - https://themedialine.org -

EXCLUSIVE: Somali Islamist Leader Speaks of Peace

[Mogadishu, Somalia] In the last week of December the Somali president, ‘Abdallah Yousuf Ahmad, resigned; scores of people were killed in factional fighting between Islamist rebel organizations; and there were reports that several MPs fled the country ahead of a likely Ethiopian troop withdrawal from the country, fearing an implosion of the already-war-torn state. All this just a short time after a peace deal was signed between the Western-backed government and the largest Islamist group.
When Transitional Federal Government (TFG) leaders met with Islamist rebels in neighboring Djibouti to sign the peace accord, it was the head of the Alliance for Re-liberation of Somalia (ARS), Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmad, who led the opposition delegation.
While ARS and the Transitional Federal Government said they would try to restore calm in Somalia, the other key Islamists organizations – most notably A-Shabab – were not party to the deal, nor was Ahmad.
Ethiopian troops said they would leave Somalia by the year’s end, leaving a vacuum because of the lack of a large international peacekeeping force.
Sheikh Sharif is nominally the head of the highly fragmented Islamic Courts Union, the body that ousted the government in a coup in 2006, but was then driven out of key cities by Ethiopian forces in 2007. The Media Line’s correspondent in the Somali capital, Mogadishu, Abdinasir Mohamed Guled has been speaking with Sheikh Sharif about the path ahead.
TML: The recent peace pact in Djibouti has many opponents. How will you satisfy those who rejected it?
SS: In the name of Allah most merciful and most gracious, there are always opponents to a pact. But why is this pact being opposed? The Djibouti peace pact makes clear the need for the withdrawal of the Ethiopian troops from Somalia and that is what the opponents desire – an end to Ethiopia’s presence. Secondly, the Somali people have experienced other problems that an inclusive government should be able to tackle under a comprehensive reconciliation. Do the opponents have something better than the peace pact? We’ve seen what fighting is.
TML: The transitional government with which you signed the deal is on the verge of collapse; if that happens how will you implement the agreement?
SS: I believe the leadership of the government had a special role when the [seemingly] endless violence started in the country; but that has changed because the TFG has stopped using force and deploying foreign forces in the country to kill civilians. I see now they’ve realized what the solution is and have gone down that road. But, if the government does collapse, the Somali people will decide their future, and implementing the agreement won’t be necessary.
TML: Ethiopia says delaying its troop withdrawal from Somalia will damage the peace pact you signed.
SS: Everyone wants to see the agreement implemented. If Ethiopia agrees to pull out its troops from Somalia as it announced in a statement, then those words are in line with the agreement, and I think it’s welcome. At that point, the Somali people have to help out in the implementation of the agreement.
TML: Fighting has erupted between A-Shabab and Ahl A-Sunna wal-Jama’a (two Islamist organizations within Somalia). What would you say regarding that fighting?
SS: It’s deplorable to fight one other, especially as the Ethiopian troops are expected to leave. To seize new areas, to kill civilians in the name of religion – those matters are dangerous and can lead the country into a new crisis. Those battles are out of place today, as are their motives. The fighting should be stopped. It’s not right to spill the blood of Somali people who are trying to implement everything. You’ve seen what’s happened over the last 18 years. You see after more violence that no one can claim control of the country. So, I’m saying it’s improper to spill civilian blood once again. I’m urging the warring sides to end their disputes around the negotiating table.
TML: Groups including the Union of Islamic Courts and A-Shabab continue to claim victories in battles waged, despite the peace agreement.
SS: When Muslims vow something, it has legal weight. Muslims who make a promise and then break it, saying that they are doing so in the name of Islam are going down a very dangerous path. The ARS was leading the insurgency in the country and there is no way that the promises contained in the truce can be broken. An agreement was reached; if it can’t be implemented we’ll have to make another agreement.
TML: Just finally, a brief word about the piracy off the Somali coast.
SS: There are many ships being held on the Somali coast, not only the Saudi supertanker [the Sirius Star, hijacked on November15]. None of the ships’ seizures are legal. It’s dangerous and it’s defaming the Somali people. The hostages and the ships must be released unconditionally. Carrying out abductions and ship seizures will not bring good to the world. We are calling for the release of the ships before the alarm of the world concerning piracy causes new waves of violence in Somalia. We ask the pirates to please release the ships now.