By Sahal Abdulle
MOGADISHU – A group of Somali lawmakers met powerful Islamists in their Mogadishu stronghold after leaving the temporary capital because of growing security fears since last month’s assassination attempt on the president.
most influential leader, Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys, welcomed the presence of 36 legislators in Mogadishu — of whom 26 met Islamists late on Wednesday — saying the movement was ready to work with them.
The comments are likely to irk the interim government struggling to assert its authority over the divided Horn of Africa country.
A Sept. 18 car bomb attack targeting President Abdullahi Yusuf in Baidoa further exposed the vulnerability of the administration, which was too divided to prevent the Islamists from seizing Mogadishu in June and other parts of Somalia.
“The lack of security is what brought us to Mogadishu. Where the president’s life is in danger, no one else is safe,” said Abdalla Haji Ali, head of parliament’s finance committee.
“The Islamists are open to everything including power-sharing and bringing law and order through negotiations without any foreign intervention,” the lawmaker added.
Senior Islamist Ibrahim Hassan Adou described the meeting — in which the two sides ended a day of religious fasting by dining together — as a “confidence building” measure.
Another top Islamist, Sheikh Sharif Ahmed, told Reuters the two sides discussed security. “We discussed the threat our country is facing and how we can cooperate on the defence of the country and prevent foreign forces from coming to Somalia.”
Witnesses say Ethiopia — the Horn’s dominant power — has already sent troops to Baidoa to protect the government. Addis Ababa denies this, but last week Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi said Ethiopia was helping to train Somali security staff.
Ahmed said the Islamists were still committed to another round of peace talks with the government to find a way to co-exist in a country mired in anarchy since 1991.
“We are going there not to get power but to get our country out of this misery,” Ahmed said in an interview.
The talks are due to be held under Arab League mediation in the Sudanese capital Khartoum on Oct. 30.
It was not clear how long the legislators would stay in Mogadishu. The 36 are among 275 members of Somalia’s interim parliament.
Ali said he would not return to Baidoa until security issues were addressed and Ethiopian troops had left Somali soil, indicating deepening dissent within the government over the deployment of foreign peacekeepers to Somalia.
The Islamists reject the idea of peacekeepers and have vowed to wage holy war against foreign forces.
Government spokesman Abdirahman Dinari dismissed the Mogadishu meeting.
“The MPs were not representing the government. They went there on their own so they cannot talk on behalf of the government,” he said, adding that Baidoa was safe.
In another development, the Islamists formed a new Islamic “Banadir” court to administer justice in Mogadishu and its surrounding areas, taking over from clan-based courts.
Banadir refers to Mogadishu and its surrounding areas. The significance of the new court is that the Islamists are centralising their justice system and control of the area.
Despite Western fears the Islamists want to impose a Taliban-style hardline system, many residents in Mogadishu credit them with bringing relative security after 15 years of anarchy since dictator Mohammed Siad Barre was ousted in 1991.
The Islamists have tried to convince the world that they mean well by sending envoys abroad and witnesses said Sheikh Ahmed had travelled on Thursday to Dubai on the same mission.
The Islamists also urged the breakaway enclave of Somalialand to release a cleric, Sheikh Mohamed Ismail, it detained last year on suspicion of terrorism.
“Somaliland fought against misjustice and won their independence through justice. If they practice misjuctice which they fought against then they will collapse.” — Reuter