Ethiopian foreign minister, Somali Islamist official in talks

ADDIS ABABA, 21 December 2009 (Somalilandpress) – This week, the spiritual leader of [Somalia’s Islamist group] Ahlu Sunna Wal Jama’a, Shaykh Mahmud Shaykh Hasan Farah, accompanied by a 14-member delegation visited Addis Ababa, holding discussions with Foreign Minister Seyoum Mesfin last Sunday [13 December]. Shaykh Mahmud briefed Minister Seyoum on Ahlu Sunna Wal Jama’a aims and objectives. He pointed out the movement’s primary goal was for the different communities in Somalia to live in peaceful coexistence without any one group imposing its will on others. Ahlu Sunna believed in the absolute necessity of promoting good neighbourliness in the region. Shaykh Mahmud added that a necessary condition for peace and stability in Somalia and the region was the removal of extremist elements from Somalia, particularly Al-Shabab [radical Somali Islamist group fighting to overthrow the Transitional Federal Government].

Shaykh Mahmud emphasized that Ahlu Sunna Wal Jama’a fully accepted that the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) has the recognition of the international community and it must, therefore, be the basis for all internal and external efforts to bring peace, stability and order to Somalia under the Djibouti [peace] agreement. Any government that excluded extremists is better than no government and Ahlu Sunna Wal Jama’a was ready to work with the TFG. At the same time he noted that the agreement signed between Ahlu Sunna Wal Jama’a and the TFG in Nairobi in June has not worked as Ahlu Sunna Wal Jama’a had hoped. He said Ahlu Sunna Wal Jama’a had confronted Al-Shabab over 30 times during the last year and had been able to defeat it regularly. Full implementation of the Nairobi agreement would have created conditions to weaken and eventually wipe out Al-Shabab and Hisb al-Islam forces from most of Somalia. He added that Ahlu Sunna Wal Jama’a was now preparing to hold its first congress. Once this had been held, it would be able to devote all its energies to engage extremists more fully throughout central and south Somalia.

Shaykh Mahmud said he was dismayed by the apparent emergence of a parallel movement. He hoped the TFG leadership would assist in maintaining the unity of Ahlu Sunna Wal Jama’a to enable it to cooperate with the TFG more effectively. He appealed to Minister Seyoum for Ethiopian mediation to eliminate any minor differences between the TFG and Ahlu Sunna Wal Jama’a and to help keep Ahlu Sunna united. Shaykh Mahmud emphasized that Ethiopia could help towards the fulfilment of the common objectives of all Somalis and assist the international community to understand more clearly where its own interests lie.

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Minister Seyoum, on his part, expressed his appreciation of the stance of Shaykh Mahmud and of Ahlu Sunna Wal Jama’a towards the TFG, the legitimate government of Somalia born out of the Djibouti process, with full support from the international community. He agreed with Ahlu Sunna Wal Jama’a on the absolute need to promote peaceful coexistence in Somalia and the region, and to remove extremist elements. The minister acknowledged the existence of problems within Ahlu Sunna Wal Jama’a and in its relations with the TFG but made it clear he thought these were not basic differences and that they could easily be resolved by negotiation and compromise. He said it was the philosophy of Ahlu Sunna Wal Jama’a, based on tolerance and moderation, which united all Somalis. The opposite view was that of Al-Shabab and Hisb al-Islam which not only promoted extremism but was also closely linked to international Jihadist movements and “spoilers”, in particular Al-Qa’idah. The ideology of extremism was the primary cause of the lack of peace and stability in Somalia today, and posed increasing threats to the region and beyond.

Minister Seyoum emphasized the need for Ahlu Sunna Wal Jama’a to work with the TFG. The government of Ethiopia, he said, would assist in any way to bring unity to Ahlu Sunna, and encourage cooperation with the TFG so they could face the common challenge from extremism together. He noted that if existing minor differences between the TFG and Ahlu Sunna were allowed to widen, it would create more opportunities for Al-Shabab and Hisb al-Islam and also lead to further difficulties for Ethiopia, the region and the international community, making it harder to assist Somalia to reach peace and stability.

Source: Ministry of Foreign Affairs website, Addis Ababa & BBC Monitoring

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