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Will Islamists Be Included in Somalia Reconciliation Conference? 


Somali analysts are warning the country's interim government that excluding political opponents from a crucial reconciliation conference next month could strengthen the position of radical Islamists. VOA Correspondent Alisha Ryu reports from our East Africa Bureau in Nairobi.

Earlier this month, Somalia's interim president, Abdullahi Yusuf, made the long-expected announcement that a national conference would be held in Mogadishu to reconcile differences among Somalis and move the war-torn nation toward a stable, democratic future.

The announcement said that the conference, scheduled to begin on April 16, would bring 3,000 participants together for two months of meetings and discussions.

Although the announcement did not give specific details about who has been invited to attend the talks, both President Yusuf and interim Prime Minister Ali Mohamed Gedi have ruled out allowing anyone representing the Islamic Court Union to participate.

A Nairobi-based research analyst at the Institute of International Studies, Mohamed Guyo, says he fears the decision to exclude Islamists from the reconciliation process will significantly increase violence and turmoil in the country.

"Remember, the Islamic courts have been on the ground since 1991 and they have been able to manage the affairs of the people in terms of local governance for 16 years," said Guyo. "And the fact that they were ruling Mogadishu for six months last year has to be incorporated into the political reality."

"If the transitional federal government does not, then Somalia will be back in a state of anarchy and anarchy means that any group, not just al-Qaida but any organized group, can take advantage of the vacuum created," he added.

Guyo argues that the Islamic Courts Union must be given a voice in the reconciliation process because the Islamists still retain popular support, especially in Mogadishu.

During the Islamists' six-month rule that ended in late December, they alienated many Somalis by allowing radicals inside the courts to control the military and by inviting foreign fighters to Somalia.

But Guyo says Somalis still credit the Islamist movement with restoring security in major cities in southern Somalia for the first time since the fall of the country's last functioning government nearly 16 years ago.

Somali journalist and analyst Daud Aweis says the worsening security situation now, including daily attacks against government, Ethiopian, and African Union peacekeeping forces, shows an urgent need for the government to engage in power-sharing talks with the Islamic Courts Union.

"Even the president is saying that the I.C.U. is behind some of the attacks in the capital of Mogadishu," he said. "So, this is a sign that I.C.U. members are still active in Somalia and without them, Somalia cannot get peace."

Somalia's transitional government was formed in 2004 in neighboring Kenya after prolonged negotiations among factional leaders.

The government has international backing, including the support of thousands of government and Ethiopian troops and 1, 200 Ugandan peacekeepers in Mogadishu. But it has not been able to assert control in the volatile capital.

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