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AMISOM to Back Somali Clerics Peace Effort

The African Union Peace keeping mission in Somalia (AMISOM) says it will provide support for today's (Thursday) Islamic peace conference aimed to ending the ongoing clashes in the capital, Mogadishu. The Islamic clerics have sharply condemned the ongoing Islamic insurgent attacks on the African Union peacekeepers that have left at least a reported 81 people dead and scores injured. The latest violence began just days after new President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed returned to the capital, Mogadishu to form an inclusive unity government. Hard line Islamic insurgent groups, including al-Shabaab have vowed to continue with their attacks, saying they will take over the country to implement the sharia law. Major Barigye Ba-Huko is the spokesman for AMISOM. He tells reporter Peter Clottey that AMISOM will continue its bid to return peace and stability to Somalia despite ongoing insurgent attacks.

"Unfortunately, the ongoing clashes are an unwelcome action unto us. But AMISOM is not in Somalia to fight. We are supposed to create conditions and atmosphere for all the people of Somalia to sit on the round table and dialogue. If fighting is imposed on us and if attacks on our position continue and we are likely to lose soldiers from those attacks, then we deserve the right to defense, and that is what we will continue to do, we will continue to work toward the objectives of our staying in this country and we will continue to work in fulfilling the task of our mandate," Major Ba-Huko noted.

He said the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) has refused to be drawn into an all-out war with the Islamic hardliner groups, who he claimed want to undermine the new government and further worsen the insecurity situation in Somalia.

"Unfortunately, their intention is to distract us and to spoil us are known. We know their intentions had always been to draw us into the conflict. They want us to get engaged in active fighting or active combats with them, which would actually mean that we are losing our neutrality, our impartiality and since we already know their intensions, we will not be lured into them achieving their objective. We cannot begin thinking or imagining that we really must move out and fight them. We'll try as much as possible to exercise restraint provided that this restraint does not lead to loss of lives of our soldiers," he pointed out.

Major Ba-Huko said while AMISOM troops would be restrained in their activities to maintain peace, they would protect themselves once attacked.

"Yes it is likely that they (insurgents) believe we will not fight back but they should not confuse our restraint with weakness. We can't do much about it (attacks) and we will try as much as possible that our soldiers are safe. But I'm also sure that even if we are to engage them for them that is what they are looking for and I have said that we are not going to accept being involved in that active combat. It is not our role it is not our responsibility," Major Ba-Huko noted.

He said AMISOM would continue to support efforts by Islamic clerics aimed at resolving the ongoing clashes in the capital, Mogadishu.

"AMISOM supports any moves by any one, an individual, a group of people and organizations who are working towards the achievement of peace in Somalia. And therefore we will support that move provided there is something tangible that such moves can achieve," he said.

Major Ba-Huko said AMISOM reposes confidence in President Sheikh Sharif Sheik Ahmed's new administration.

"We believe and hope that the new government of national unity is very well intentioned. And its leadership has repeatedly said that they have their hands open to speak with everyone who supports the peace process and so we will support both the government and any other group that can help towards achieving peace in Somalia," Major Ba-Huko pointed out.

Some Somali non-governmental organizations have reportedly said more than 16,000 civilians have been killed in the two-year-old insurgency, one million people have been driven from their homes, more than a third of the population depend on aid, and large parts of Mogadishu lie empty and destroyed.

Meanwhile, Eretria has called on all foreign troops including the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) to leave the country amid the ongoing Islamic insurgent attacks. Asmara contends that external interference must stop if the Somali reconciliation efforts are to succeed.