NAIROBI,(Reuters) – A deal to avert confrontation between the Somali interim government and Islamists who control Mogadishu have calmed fears of new fighting in the Horn of Africa country for now — but many tough issues stay unresolved.
The two sides signed an agreement in Khartoum on Thursday to suspend military and propaganda campaigns, recognise each other and meet on July 15 for more talks in the Sudanese capital.
The move was welcomed as a step forward by diplomats, worried about the worsening relationship between the Islamists, who seized Mogadishu from U.S.-backed warlords on June 5, and Somalia’s weak but internationally recognised government.
“I think this is the best outcome we could have expected. It gives everyone a breathing space,” said one Nairobi-based Western diplomat. “The fact that both sides have recognised the need for mutual dialogue is really positive.”
However, both parties have yet to address a range of sensitive issues such as foreign peacekeepers, power-sharing and the government’s return to the capital from its temporary base in the provincial town of Baidoa.
The government was formed in neighbouring Kenya in 2004 in the 14th attempt to restore central rule to Somalia since 1991.
An Islamic Courts Union spokesman said Thursday’s deal might anger some radicals within the diverse movement comprising 14 courts of moderate and hardline influence.
“Some of the radical people might not be happy. When they see their people shaking hands with those people (government), they are not pleased,” said Nairobi-based spokesman Abdurahman Ali Osman.
“They might try and put more conditions because what they want to see is (President) Abdullahi Yusuf on the run.”
Diplomats say building trust will be a major challenge after a flurry of accusations and counter-accusations between the two sides following the Islamist victory in Mogadishu.
The Islamists have accused Ethiopia, Yusuf’s main backer, of sending 300 soldiers across the border and rejected the government’s proposal for foreign troops in Somalia.
The government, on the other hand, has accused Muslim fundamentalists around the world of backing the Islamists who now control a swathe of southern-central Somalia.
Residents and Islamic courts’ officials said demonstrations were planned later on Friday in Mogadishu against foreign peacekeepers and to urge international support for Islamists.