As fighting rages on in the Somali capital Mogadishu, international stakeholders in Somalia are urging the country's transitional federal government and an Islamist-led opposition faction to implement a cease-fire agreement outlined in a recently-signed peace deal. But as VOA Correspondent Alisha Ryu reports from our East Africa Bureau in Nairobi, the deal is now viewed as being too weak to produce any results.
Last Tuesday, the United Nations special envoy to Somalia opened a conference in Djibouti attended by a number of stakeholders. They included representatives from Britain, Canada, Italy, Norway, Sweden, the United States, the African Union, the League of Arab States, and the European Union.
Known collectively as the International Contact Group, the group urged the two principle signatories of the June 9 Somali peace pact to implement a comprehensive cease-fire to allow a timely withdrawal of Ethiopian troops from Somalia and the deployment of an international stabilization force.
But the Somalia analyst for International Crisis Group, Rashid Abdi, points out a critical flaw in the peace pact, which Abdi and other observers say is at the heart of the problems confronting the international community.
"You have essentially a deal between two weak parties, that is the transitional federal government and an ARS faction, which has very little control on the ground," said Abdi. "I think the hope among the members of the international community who is spearheading this process is that the more this process continues and gains momentum, the more attractive it will become for the moderate factions within the militant groups to come on board."
The ARS faction Abdi refers to is a faction led by Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed, the moderate Islamist leader who signed the peace deal on behalf of the Eritrea-based Alliance for the Re-liberation of Somalia opposition group.
The alliance has long demanded the withdrawal of Ethiopian troops, who intervened in Somalia in late 2006 to end the six-month rule of the Islamic Courts Union. Ethiopia then installed Somalia's western-friendly interim government in its place. Ahmed and other prominent leaders of the courts encouraged a violent anti-government, anti-Ethiopian insurgency in Somalia.
The fighting between insurgents and Ethiopian and Somali government troops killed thousands of people and displaced more than one million others, creating the worst humanitarian crisis since the fall of the last government in 1991. Both sides were accused of committing war crimes against civilians.
Ahmed and his supporters in the ARS agreed to open indirect talks with the Somali government to find a way to end the insurgency. In a recent interview with VOA, Ahmed explained why he agreed to negotiate.
He says ordinary Somalis needed peace and they supported his view that negotiating was the best way to achieve it.
But Ahmed's conciliatory stance was bitterly opposed by hardliners in the ARS, led by Sheik Hassan Dahir Aweys. The hardliners in Asmara and their allies in Somalia, including a homegrown militant al-Qaida-linked group called the Shabab, said the insurgency would continue until all Ethiopian troops left Somali soil. They also warned the international community not to send foreign peacekeepers to Somalia.
Since June, insurgent attacks on Ethiopian troops and African Union peacekeepers have soared, prompting the U.N. Security Council to announce that no U.N. peacekeepers would be sent to Somalia until the security situation there improved.
Meanwhile, news that Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed was negotiating with the Ethiopian-backed government shocked and confused many supporters of the ousted Islamic Courts Union. Many viewed the move as a betrayal of Islam and Somali nationalism.
Abdi says by the time Ahmed formally signed the peace pact last month, his credibility as an opposition leader was being openly questioned.
"He enjoys some support but that does not mean the overwhelming number of people who have arms actually listen to him. And in the last few months, he has lost a considerable amount of authority. So, to expect Sheik Sharif on his own to pull off a cease-fire, I think, is unrealistic," added Abdi.
The situation within Somalia's transitional federal government is equally unsettled.
A rift between President Abdullahi Yusuf and Prime Minister Nur Hassan Hussein, which erupted in July over the firing of Mogadishu Mayor Mohamed Dheere has only deepened in recent weeks. One Somali parliament member tells VOA that the political in-fighting inside the TFG has left the government existing only on paper and Ethiopia is becoming increasingly frustrated that its military has to bear the burden of protecting it.
An independent U.S.-based Somalia observer Michael Weinstein argues that although there have been growing disagreements among factions in the Islamist movement, the chaos inside the Somali government has been far worse.
He says that has allowed insurgents to re-establish Islamist control in many parts of the country.
"They are using this window of opportunity very well to provide security, settle clan differences, institute [Islamic law] Sharia, which is rooting their power like they never rooted in 2006. They are in control of more than half of south-central Somalia," said Weinstein. "Why should they negotiate with anyone? Nobody is going to be able to displace them. The Ethiopians are on the ropes. The TFG is incapable of defending itself. Consequences of it will be a consolidation of the Islamist insurgency on the ground."
The peace conference that opened in Djibouti last week ended three days later without a cease-fire agreement.
There has been no word from the International Contact Group whether the talks will resume at a later time.