Cairo, Asharq Al-Awsat- Djibouti has described the current situation in Somalia as extremely complicated. In an interview with Asharq Al Awsat, Djibouti’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mahamoud Ali Youssouf, expressed his concern and pessimism over the repercussions in terms of security and stability in the Horn of Africa.
Youssouf refuted claims that the American troops present in Djibouti since September 11, 2001, had participated in the military operations that were recently carried out by the Ethiopian forces, in collaboration with Somalia’s interim government led by Somali President Abdullahi Yusuf, during their invasion of Somalia in an attempt to defeat the Islamic Courts’ forces.
In an exclusive phone interview with Asharq Al Awsat, Djibouti’s foreign affairs minister also refuted claims that his country has received requests for political asylum from fugitive leaders of the Islamic Courts after they abandoned their last stronghold in the city of Kismayo. He emphasized that his country will not accept Ethiopia’s military occupation in Somalia to prevail, calling for the immediate withdrawal of the foreign forces from Somalia so as to allow for the Somali people to decide their own future.
The interview with Djibouti’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mahamoud Ali Youssouf follows:
Q: How do you evaluate the current situation in Somalia?
A: So far, Djibouti has assumed a supervisory position and we are closely monitoring the developments in Somalia. We have also begun talks with the countries whose forces are present in the region such as France and the US. A few days ago we received the Ethiopian Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Tekeda Alemu, who delivered a letter from the Ethiopian Prime Minister, Meles Zenawi, to Djibouti’s President, Ismail Omar Guellah. We have also recently received Jendayi E. Frazer [the US Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, who heads the Bureau of African Affairs].
Q: Are there fears that the Ethiopian troops will remain in Somalia?
A: No country that follows and respects international law would accept the occupation of one country over another. This is our stance. From the outset, we were in favor of dialogue and called for sitting at the negotiation table with the Somali factions – this is what we aspired to but it was not successful. The military option, which we feared is what is prevalent in the arena. There is a saying in Djibouti that he who begins a war knows when to begin it but does not know when to end it. This war has ended and Somalia is in a serious and critical phase.
Q: But the Somali government claims that it has a plan in this regard?
A: If we can achieve security and stability through this government and its plan, in addition to the participation of the foreign forces and all the options available to the Somali government, then we would welcome it. In return for this our only demand is the withdrawal of the foreign troops from Somalia in order to truly stabilize the situation. We uphold that the military solution can only bring further destruction to Somalia. Today we hear that the Ethiopian troops will be replaced with African ones [African peacekeeping forces] and that Somalia’s neighboring countries, in accordance with the international law, will not participate [will not be part of these African forces].
We also wonder what plan the interim government will implement to regain peace, security and stability in Somalia, and whether the Ethiopian military presence will assist in bringing that about – we do not know. Will the African troops replace the Ethiopian troops in the near future? The question is: if the African troops are deployed in the area will they assist in bringing about peace, or will they impose peace and security throughout the whole of Somalia?
Q: What do you think is the solution to this crisis?
A: We are certain that the situation has become very grave. First and foremost we want stability for Somalia, and that the neighboring countries and the member states of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) and the international community, which are all influential powers that want stability in Somalia, to develop the necessary framework to initiate a meeting or negotiations between the Somali government and what remains of the so-called Islamic Courts. This should also include the political forces within Somalia, and what that entails of civil society institutions, so that a comprehensive solution that incorporates all the aforementioned forces’ vision for Somalia’s future can be attained. If the country’s future were to be determined by the neighboring countries and other parties outside of the region, I believe that Somalia will not witness any stability or peace.
Q: In this context, what are your political and diplomatic pursuits?
A: We have begun discussions with the neighboring countries and with influential foreign countries, namely France and the US. Djibouti’s President Guellah has been in contact with the Kenyan president, Mwai Kibaki, the latter of whom heads the current session of the IGAD. I have also personally been in contact with the Secretary-General of the Arab League, Amr Moussa. All these political and diplomatic moves aim at trying to prevent Somalia from sliding further into chaos, while assisting the Somalis in finding a way out of this tragic situation. Presently, we will not conceal that we are very pessimistic.
Q: Have you recently received any requests for the right to political asylum from fugitive Islamic Courts leaders?
A: We have not received any requests in this regard.
Q: What would be your reaction if the head of the Islamic Courts’ Shura Council, Sheikh Hassan Taher Aweys made that request?
A: If we were to receive any request, we would study it to determine the reason this asylum was requested; is it to escape the Ethiopian troops, or to evade responsibilities? We would examine the matter; however Djibouti has not received any requests for political asylum from leaders of the Islamic Courts.
Q: What is the veracity in what was recounted that the US tried to arrest Aweys during an earlier visit to Djibouti under the pretext that he was internationally wanted for his involvement in terrorist activities?
A: These are all stories and rumors that did not occur. When we were visited by leaders of the Islamic Courts, it was in an attempt of reconciliation between the viewpoints of the Islamic Courts and Somalia’s interim government. We did not favor one party over another, neither were we biased at the expense of one party. We have said this to the United States and to the Ethiopians and we have said it to anyone who wanted to hear our stance. All that we strived for was to bridge the gap between the two perspectives. We have also received leaders from the Somali government and have tried to avoid what we witnessed in Somalia of killings.
Q: In your opinion, is this the end of the Islamic Courts?
A: The next few days and weeks will bear the answer to this question, however we stress that the fate for reconciliation and stability in Somalia does not lie in the hands of one party over another. We believe that for a comprehensive solution and a lasting stability to be reached in Somalia, it must come as a result of negotiations that include all the forces in Somalia; otherwise everything will go back to zero again. Military campaigns have previously been tested in Somalia and they did not succeed – all they are capable of is bringing about more destruction and ruin for the Somalis.
Q: Is it true that the American forces stationed in Djibouti participated in the Ethiopian invasion of Somalia?
A: I do not believe that they participated because we coordinate with the forces and their battle against terrorism is the framework of an international coalition that is hosted by Djibouti. According to the information available to us at the present time, we do not believe that the US forces participated with their Ethiopian counterparts in the invasion of Somalia. If there is news that refutes this, we will wait and respond to it when the time arises.