Last Updated: Sun Oct 17, 2010 04:57 am (KSA) 01:57 am (GMT)

Somalia gov faces second crisis after PM exit

Soldiers from the previously pro-government Ahlu Sunna Waljamaca group watching out for the Qaeda linked al-Shaabab movement (File)
Soldiers from the previously pro-government Ahlu Sunna Waljamaca group watching out for the Qaeda linked al-Shaabab movement (File)

A moderate Islamist group that signed a power sharing deal with Somalia's government in March this year to help quell a raging insurgency has withdrawn from the administration, days after the prime minister quit.

Before joining the government, the Ahlu Sunna Waljamaca (ASWJ) militia group had pushed back al-Qaeda linked al-Shabab and Hizbul Islam rebels in central Somalia, and its entry into government was meant to help defeat the extremists.

Sheikh Abdullahi Sheikh Abu Yusuf, the spokesman of ASWJ told Reuters on Saturday the group had left the government after its failure to meet certain agreements reached when they agreed a power-sharing deal.

Their exit is likely to further weaken President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed's push against the rebels, and herald more of the internal divisions that have beset the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) and slowed government business to a crawl.

The group accused the administration of planning to abolish it and called for a reconciliation conference.

"From now on, we as Ahlu Sunna Waljamaca declare that the treaty we have signed with the government in Addis Ababa has ended," the spokesman Yusuf said.

"The government itself has caused that. We were not in Sharmarke's government or any other next government. We shall continue fighting against the al-Shabab and Hizbul Islam to keep our controlled areas peaceful."

Somalia's Prime Minister Omar Abdirashid Sharmarke resigned on Tuesday, paying the price for the government's failure to rein the rebels, who have killed thousands of civilians. The lack of progress is threatening to topple the administration.

ASWJ had no cabinet members in the government of the departed PM despite being promised five when they joined earlier this year. They have warned that Sharmarke's departure will only worsen Somalia's insecurity.

"We urge holding a reconciliation conference to bring Somalis together to get an effective authority that can rid the country of terrorists and foreign fighters," Yusuf said.

ASWJ is made up of moderate Sufi Muslims, in a country with a rich Sufi tradition going back five centuries.

Two insurgent groups have been fighting the Horn of Africa nation's government since the start of 2007 and the Western-backed administration has been hemmed into a few blocks of the capital Mogadishu since a rebel offensive last May.

A- Qaeda-linked al-Shabab militants have stepped up their offensive to topple the government in the last six weeks. A suicide bomber blew himself up outside the presidential palace compound on Monday night, wounding two peacekeepers.

The rebels have used suicide bombers to devastating effect over the past two years, killing five government ministers and dozens of AU peacekeeping troops. A- Shabab was also behind attacks in Uganda in July that killed at least 79 people.

US seeks closer ties with Somali break away regions

The United States said Friday it seeks to develop closer ties with Somalia's northern breakaway states as part of efforts to undercut Islamists threatening Somalia's fragile central government.

Johnnie Carson, the State Department's pointman for Africa, said the new policy aims to help the governments of Puntland and Somaliland improve services for their people, by having more U.S. diplomats and aid workers visit them.

U.S. personnel traveling from nearby Nairobi, Kenya would hold periodic meetings with officials in the breakaway regions and propose help in health, education, agriculture and water projects, he said.

"In the past we have not engaged these areas and political entities aggressively. We will now start to do so," he told reporters on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly in New York.

"We think both of these parts of Somalia have been zones of relative political and civil stability and we think they will in fact be a bulwark against extremism and radicalism that might emerge from the south," he said.

Al-Qaeda-inspired al-Shabab militants control most of Somalia and have been closing in on the Western-backed Transitional Federal Government's Mogadishu quarters.

He also said U.S. officials will "reach out" to clans and other groups in south central Somalia that are opposed to al-Shabab militants but that are not directly allied with the central government in Mogadishu.

"We will look for opportunities to work with these groups," said Carson, the assistant secretary of state for African affairs.

Despite the new U.S. approach, he said the United States will continue to recognize one Somali state, in line with both regional and international organizations, including the United Nations.

"We do not contemplate and we are not about to recognize either of these entities or areas as independent states," he said.

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