Leading opposition figure returns to Somalia
Sheikh Hassan Aweys, whom the US accuses of having ties to Al Qaeda, says he wants to unite warring Islamic factions.
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Sheikh Hassan Aweys, who is on the US list of terrorism suspects for alleged links to Al Qaeda, came back to Somalia after more than two years in exile in Eritrea. Members of his alliance said he would promote reconciliation, but Mr. Aweys said that cannot happen until African Union troops leave Somalia.
Aweys is the former legislative head of the Islamic Courts Union, a movement that ended Somalia's longstanding civil war and came to power in 2007. But it was ousted in a US-backed Ethiopian invasion by the end of that year and subsequently split into two factions. Aweys's faction, the Alliance for the Reliberation of Somalia (ARS-Eritrea), is part of the Islamic Party, which opposes the government of President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed. Aweys had backed Islamic insurgents fighting the government, reports the Associated Press.
Leading figures in ARS-Eritrea said Aweys has come back to Somalia to promote reconciliation among Islamist factions, reports Garowe Online, the website of a leading radio station in northern Somalia.
"I will meet with anyone concerned about Somalia and my trip [to Somalia] is not influenced by foreign countries," Sheikh Aweys told Qatar-based Al Jazeera TV, although he did not specify whether he plans to meet with President Sheikh Sharif.
Sheikh Ismail Haji Addow, a senior member of ARS-Eritrea, told reporters that Sheikh Aweys would meet with meet with different sections of society in Mogadishu to promote reconciliation among Islamist factions.
"We [ARS-Eritrea] have moved back to Mogadishu, but we will keep an office in Eritrea," Sheikh Addow said, while underscoring that Sheikh Aweys' main task would be to reconcile factions within the
, or the resistance movement that became popular during the Ethiopian army's two-year intervention in south-central Somalia.
However, Aweys declared that reconciliation will not be possible until the African Union Peacekeeping Force (AMISOM) leaves the country. Aweys views the African force as foreign occupiers, reports Reuters.
"Let AMISOM leave then we shall have talks with our deceived friends, government officials," Aweys told opposition supporters in the Somali capital.
"AMISOM is not a peacekeeping force ... They are bacteria in Somalia. Somalia has not yet reached peaceful agreement. So be patient. We are left with little time to fight and achieve our Islamic objective," he told hundreds of supporters.
A 4,300-strong AU peacekeeping mission in the Somali capital has faced near-daily attacks. Analysts say the insurgents are preparing to step up assaults on peacekeepers there.