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Somalia Opposition Leader in Khartoum


After more than two years in self-imposed exile in Asmara, Eritrea, Somalia's Islamist opposition figure, Sheik Hassan Dahir Aweys, has temporarily based himself in the Sudanese capital Khartoum.

Reports that Sheik Hassan Dahir Aweys had left Eritrea for Sudan surfaced earlier this week. Somali and western media said Sudanese officials were mediating a deal in which the cleric would return to the Somali capital Mogadishu later this month and formally reconcile with Somali President Sharif Sheik Ahmed.

The Reuters news agency reported that President Sharif may even travel to Khartoum to meet him.

On Thursday, a cleric close to Aweys, Sheik Hassan Mahdi, confirmed that Aweys was in Khartoum. But Mahdi denied that he went there to make contact with President Sharif.

He said Sheik Hassan Dahir Aweys is in Khartoum because he had received an invitation from the Sudanese government, not because he wanted to negotiate a peace deal.

Aweys and President Sharif once led Somalia's Islamic Courts Union that briefly ruled the country in 2006. The courts were ousted by Ethiopian troops in late 2006 and the two men fled to Asmara.

They founded the opposition Alliance for the Re-liberation of Somalia group and supported an Islamist-led insurgency against Ethiopia and the secular government it backed in Mogadishu.

Last year, Sharif Sheik Ahmed angered Aweys by engaging in U.N.-sponsored peace talks with the government. Those talks led to the pullout of Ethiopian troops from Somalia and the formation of new government under an Islamist leader, who has agreed to meet the insurgents' demand of installing Islamic law in Somalia.

But Aweys' group in Asmara, the militant Islamist group al-Shabab, and other smaller groups refused to negotiate a cease-fire because they said foreign troops still remained in the country. About 4,000 African Union soldiers from Uganda and Burundi are in Mogadishu guarding the seaport, airport and government buildings.

Lacking a national Somali security force to replace the African Union troops right now, President Sharif is said to be eager to reconcile with Aweys and bring an end to the Asmara group's participation in the on-going insurgency.

The Asmara faction recently joined forces with three other anti-government Islamist factions to form a coalition called Hisbul Islam, the Arabic name for the Party of Islam. Hisbul Islam, as well as al-Shabab, has taken responsibility for several deadly clashes with pro-government forces in Mogadishu and elsewhere in recent weeks.

But U.S.-based Somalia observer, Michael Weinstein, said it is not yet clear how much President Sharif would benefit by having Sheik Hassan Dahir Aweys as an ally again.

"What he is going to do with his fighters in Hisbul Islam? That is something that is very problematic because they are still fighting," he said. "And then, Hisbul Islam in Gedo [region] has formed a joint administration with al-Shabab. So, it is not clear at all what he wants to do or whether he even controls that movement anymore," he added.

Complicating matters further, in-fighting among Hisbul Islam members split the group last week into two factions.

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