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Somalia Crisis Centers on Islamist Hardliners Versus Ethiopia, says Analyst


Both the Islamic Courts Union (ICU) and the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) have indicated they are willing to talk to each other to discuss peace. But what are the odds a ceasefire agreement could be signed? For an analysis of the situation, VOA English to Africa reporter Joe De Capua spoke with Dr. Ken Menkhaus of Davidson College in Davidson, North Carolina.

“They could sign an accord, a ceasefire…the problem has always been getting them to implement what they’ve signed. We don’t even know who actually represents whom on the courts’ side. We get lots of contradictory statements, people attending meetings, making a statement and then others, who turn out to have more power in the movement…so I don’t hold a lot of hope in yet another accord,” he says.

Menkhaus says resolving the crisis involves more than tensions between the ICU and the interim government. He says, “I think the first thing we need to do is to acknowledge that the real conflict is not between the courts and the TFG. The real conflict that is propelling the eastern Horn of Africa into what looks like is going to be a devastating, long-term, protracted war is the conflict between the government of Ethiopia and the hard-line Islamists. Until they have some line of communication, until they hopefully come to some kind of an agreement to co-exist, there is going to continue to be the threat of war there.”

Asked how the two sides could learn to live side by side, Menkhaus says, “First of all, Ethiopian officials have been very clear that they have lived with an Islamist government on their border that they didn’t like, and that was namely Sudan, for years. They can do it if they have to. They need security guarantees from Somalia.”

He says that hardliners in the ICU need to say publicly state that they reject claims on territory of neighboring countries to form a greater Somalia. He says until that happens, Ethiopia has a legitimate fear of the ICU. What’s more, he says that the ICU needs “to make a binding statement that they do not support, in any way, armed insurgencies against their neighbors.”

Menkhaus says that the international community must provide security guarantees along the border between Ethiopia and Somalia. He also says that Ethiopia must make some concessions, such as withdrawing its forces from Baidoa to the border area.