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Hard-line Somali Opposition Leader Aweys Said to Have Returned to Mogadishu

The African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) says it has heard reports that hard-line Somali opposition leader Sheik Hassan Dahir Aweys arrived Thursday in Somalia's capital, Mogadishu. Aweys, who has been accused of having links to al-Qaida, had been living in Eritrea's capital, Asmara, after Ethiopian troops drove him and his supporters from their strongholds in southern Somalia and Mogadishu.

His faction of the Alliance for the Re-Liberation of Somalia is a member of the Islamic Party, which has been opposed to the new government of President Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed.

Major Barigye Bahoku is spokesman for the African Union Mission to Somalia. He told VOA AMISOM would welcome Aweys' return but is anxious to know the message he's bringing to the Somali people.

"African Union Mission for Somalia has received the same information that Sheik Dahir Aweys has returned to Somalia, and we believe that's a step in the right direction because this country is for all the Somalis. And every opinion, every idea, especially at this stage matters. So I think what remains to be done or what remains to be seen is the message that Sheik Dahir Aweys will bring the people of Somalia. If he is coming back with a message of peace, with a message of stability, with a message of reconciliation for all the people of Somalia, that will be great," he said.

Bahoku said AMISOM's mission has been about creating an atmosphere where all Somalis would feel comfortable to discuss issues affecting their country.

"As AMISOM, that's what we have been working for, that's what we have been struggling for to ensure that all the Somalis can sit, have dialogue about their problems and indeed agree to resolve their long-standing conflict by dialogue as opposed to violence," Bahoku said.

A U.N. Security Council resolution has designated Aweys as a terrorist, but he has repeatedly denied having ties to international terrorists.

Bahoku said there was always a way out of what he called the dilemma of Somalia.

"As AMISOM, our view will be that any means available at bringing back peace to the people of Somalia should be taken advantage of, should be exploited maximumly. That, however, does not mean that people, for example, who have committed crimes against humanity, crimes against individuals cannot be brought to book," Bahoku said.

Aweys' faction of the Alliance for the Re-Liberation of Somalia is a member of the Islamic Party, which is opposed to the government of President Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed.

Obsevers say his return to Mogadishu could be an indication he may want to reconcile with Ahmed.

Bahoku said President Sheik Ahmed has been reaching out to his foes since the signing of the Djibouti Agreement last August.

"This country has been without stability, has been without peace, has been without law and order for over 18 years or about 18 years. And as a result of that, so many factions have come out, and therefore the approach of reconciliation, the approach of bringing everyone on board is an approach that should be applauded," Bahoku said.

He said AMISOM might consider meeting and talking to Aweys, although it is not their mission to meet with individuals.

"As AMISOM, our law is not to surely meet with individuals or to arm up any individual. Our law is to create an environment where all the individuals, where all the groups in this country can feel confident enough to discuss their conflict, to discuss their problems. So yes we may think about talking to him, about approaching him, but surely that wouldn't be a priority for us," Bahoku said.