[Dehai-WN] (Reuters): INTERVIEW-Negotiations with Somali rebels an option-PM

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From: Berhane Habtemariam (Berhane.Habtemariam@gmx.de)
Date: Fri Sep 09 2011 - 17:08:08 EDT

INTERVIEW-Negotiations with Somali rebels an option-PM

Fri Sep 9, 2011 11:42am GMT

* Somali PM says govt has held informal talks with al Shabaab

* Says too early to talk incentives, conditions

* Roadmap can be implemented if donors stump up cash

* Says region working together get famine aid into rebel areas

By Sahra Abdi and Richard Lough

NAIROBI, Sept 9 (Reuters) - Somalia is open to talks with al Shabaab's top
commanders and informal discussions already held suggest a willingness among
some militants to lay down arms and negotiate, the country's prime minister
said on Friday.

Somalia's beleaguered government is desperate to consolidate security gains
after the al Qaeda-linked rebels retreated from the capital Mogadishu last
month, as it faces the task of holding elections by August, 2012.

"We are open to dialogue with ... any organisation that's going to reach
(out) to us, work with us to bring peace and stability to Somalia," Prime
Minister Abdiweli Mohamed Ali told Reuters.

"We don't have formal talks with (al Shabaab) but here and there we talk to
them and maybe there is some willingness from some of them to lay down their
arms and negotiate," Ali said in an interview.

It was too early, he said, to talk about conditions on negotiations or what
incentives the government might offer the militants, whose bloody four-year
insurgency has led to the deaths of tens of thousands of Somalis.

Some outside experts say al Shabaab is at its weakest since their rebellion
was born from the ruins of another hardline Islamist group in 2007, plagued
by deepening internal rifts and short on finances.

"You don't talk to foot-soldiers, you negotiate with leaders. The incentive
is deal with us first and we will talk later," said Ali, previously a
professor of economics in the United States before he joined the U.N.-backed

Talk of deal cutting with the rebels may unsettle some Western powers who
oppose negotiating with an Islamist rebel force whose ranks have been
bolstered by foreign fighters linked directly to al Qaeda.


Somali leaders adopted a roadmap this week designed to lead to elections
within a year and end a string of fragile transition governments that have
failed to bring peace or meaningful political reform to the anarchic Horn of
Africa nation.

Pitfalls dot the way ahead, not least the reluctance of Somalia's political
class to place national interests above clan, rampant graft and the Islamist
insurgency that rages on across swathes of southern and central, analysts

Ali, however, was confident a new constitution would be ratified by July 1,
2012, ahead of presidential and parliamentary elections by Aug. 20.

"Somalis are ready to move on. We will make sure this roadmap is met,
provided the international community comes up with the (financial and
security) resources to meet these obligations."

Somalia's spending is heavily funded by external donors as its tax base is
effectively restricted to Mogadishu where custom dues from the sea port and
airport provide the bulk of revenues.

"A roadmap without resources is a road to nowhere," he said.

Ali's government, and the African peacekeeping force propping it up, have
also requested extra troops to secure Mogadishu and quash the Islamist
rebellion nationwide.

Ali spoke to Reuters in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, as regional heads of
state gathered in the east African country for an emergency regional summit
on the famine that the U.N. says is killing hundreds of Somalis daily.

Some 750,000 people, mostly in al Shabaab-held areas, face imminent
starvation, according to U.N. estimates.

Ethiopia's Prime Minister Meles Zenawi has said the region's IGAD bloc is
ready to contribute to "cross-border operations" that "expand the zone of
stability" to ensure food aid reached hungry Somalis in rebel controlled

Ethiopia, whose forces routed an Islamist administration in power in
Mogadishu in early 2007, makes regular incursions into Somalia to protect
its border but is thought not to be keen to deploy deep inside its neighbour
again, analysts say.

The plan has raised concerns among aid groups that aid corridors could be a
pretext for military intervention.

Ali said he was not aware of Meles' comments.

"As far as security arrangements with neighbouring countries, we work
together on defeating this menace, Shabaab, and also to make sure the food
aid reaches the people who need it the most," he said. (Editing by David

C Thomson Reuters 2011 All rights reserved


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