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Somalia's New President Continues Push for Insurgent Support

  • Derek Kilner

Somalia's government continued its efforts to gain the support of Islamist insurgent groups. At a ceremony in Somalia's capital on Monday, leaders of one faction pledged their support for the country's new president, but other factions remain opposed to the government.

Since taking over as Somalia's president at the end of January, Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, a former leader of Somalia's Islamist insurgency who signed an agreement with the government last summer, has attempted to bring on board the other Islamist factions who have been fighting the government for the past two years.

On Monday, at a ceremony in Mogadishu, the leaders of one faction, the Islamic Courts Union, announced their support for Sheikh Sharif. One of the group's leaders, Abdulkadir Ali Omar, called for forgiveness between different factions.

Omar said that today there is a new era, a new coalition, and new work to do. He said he and others welcome President Sheikh Sharif and his colleagues and he said there is a golden opportunity. Omar said many opportunities have been wasted but he said now there is a chance to take advantage of the chance God has given to Somalia.

Omar's Islamic Courts Union has retained the name of the Islamist group that briefly took control of Mogadishu in 2006, before being ousted by Ethiopian troops supporting an internationally-backed transitional government. Over the course of the ensuing insurgency, the Islamists have broken into a number of factions. The Shabaab, a hardline group that controls much of southern Somalia, and which is labeled a terrorist organization by the United States, has vowed to resist Sheikh Sharif's government, with one leader saying the new president has abandoned the Islamist cause and sided with the United States.

Several other Islamist factions have formed a coalition, called the Islamic Party, which has vowed to oppose Sheikh Sharif's government. But Sheik Sharif, whose Alliance for the Reliberation of Somalia has now joined the government, has continued its calls for cooperation.

At Monday's ceremony, Sheikh Sharif called for forgiveness between the different sides. He called on the former enemies in the transitional government and the insurgent groups to work together in the interest of peace and stability.

He also voiced his commitment to establishing some form of Sharia law in the country. There have been some signs that Sheikh Sharif's efforts may be bearing fruit. There have been reports in the Somali media that top Shabaab officials, including spokesman Sheikh Muktar Robow, have held meetings with the president in recent days. And on Tuesday, Somali media reported that Islamic Party leaders had agreed to begin negotiations with the government under the mediation of traditional leaders from the Hawiye clan in Mogadishu.

There have also been reports of internal divisions within the Shabaab. Since Ethiopian forces withdrew from the country last month, insurgents have lost their main rallying point. The Shabaab has struggled to exert its strength in Mogadishu, encountering resistance from clan-based militias.

But for now, instability persists. On Sunday, insurgents fired mortar rounds at the presidential palace in Mogadishu, and attacked African Union peacekeepers, who have been increasingly targeted since the withdrawal of Ethiopian forces. On Monday in Nairobi, the AU's special representative for Somalia said Uganda and Burundi would soon be sending additional troops to the peacekeeping mission, which would bring the total to around 5,000, still short of the 8,000 that have been approved.

Journalists, who have long faced one of the most dangerous professional environments in the world, have also been a growing target. On Saturday, the director of a local radio station in central Somalia was hospitalized after being stabbed. Last week, the director of one of the country's most popular radio stations, Horn Afrik, was shot and killed in Mogadishu.

On Tuesday, the National Union of Somali Journalists said that Islamist insurgents, who control much of southern Somalia, have been harassing journalists and restricting coverage of Sheikh Sharif's transitional government.

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