A two-day meeting between Somalia's Transitional Federal Government (TFG) and exiled opposition leaders represented by the Alliance for the Re-Liberation of Somalia (ARS) ended Sunday in Djibouti. The meeting, the fourth of its kind, was in preparation for a conference in March 2009 on ways to end Somalia's two-decade-long civil war.
In earlier rounds of such meetings, the opposition Islamic Courts' Union had demanded the withdrawal of Ethiopian troops within 120 days. Sunday's meeting, held under the auspices of the United Nations Political Office for Somalia (UNPOS) also followed a week during which transitional president Abdullahi Yusuf announced that his government was on the verge of collapse.
From Djibouti, free-lance journalist Abdoul Kader Youssouf told VOA the parties discussed issues related to forming a national unity government as well as transitional justice.
"The two parties, mainly ARS and TFG agreed to the proposals of the UNPOS, namely the United Nations Political Office for Somalia based in Nairobi to come up with a committee with each group delegating three representatives in other to work on such issues as a unity government and transitional justice in conflict and post-conflict states, which is the case of Somalia," he said.
In earlier rounds of such meetings, the opposition Islamic Courts' Union had demanded the withdrawal of Ethiopian troops within 120 days.
Youssouf said the issue of Ethiopian troops pull out from Somalia was also discussed during the Djibouti meeting.
"At the end of today's (Sunday's) session, one member of the ARS addressed the issue to the United Nations Special Envoy to Somalia, that's Ahmedou Ould Abdallah who said that he had confirmation from last Friday there has been movement of Ethiopian troops from three respective areas around Mogadishu. But based on what Ambassador Ould Abdullah was saying, he did not want to give any names of people who are trying to provide them information on the ground because of security issues," Youssouf said.
He said representatives of the Islamic militia Al-Shabab who have been responsible for recent attacks against the transitional government in Mogadishu were not present at the Djibouti meeting.
"You have to know that in Somalia, there are a number groups operating on the ground, one of which is the group that is called Al-Shabab, which is considered to be the armed wing of the Islamists in Somalia. The only attending this meeting was the Alliance for the Re-Liberation of Somalia and TFG as well as the civil society," he said.
Although he said discussions at the Djibouti meeting were conducted in a friendly atmosphere, Youssouf agreed that very little would be accomplished with the absence of the militant Al-Shabab."A lot of Somali people, both from the Diaspora and a number of Somali-speaking areas are saying that we need to associate with the people operating on the ground, mainly in this case Al-Shabab. But the problem is who should be representing Al-Sbahab if they have to ever participate in meetings because you have to know that the Al-Shabab is one of the armed wings of the Islamists, and they don't have any known official representative. And even if there is one, they don't want to participate in any meeting with the ARS," Youssouf said.