Somali opposition leader quits Eritrea for Sudan

Tue Mar 31, 2009 9:21am EDT

Related Topics

* Opposition leader in Sudanese capital

* May go to Mogadishu to back new government



By Ibrahim Mohamed

MOGADISHU, March 31 (Reuters) - Somalia's hardline Islamist opposition leader Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys has quit self-imposed exile in Eritrea for neighbouring Sudan and may return to Mogadishu soon, Somali media said on Tuesday.

Aweys, 62, is on a U.S. list of terrorism suspects. He is a former chairman of the Islamic Courts Union that ruled Somalia's capital in 2006 until being ousted by Ethiopian troops.

He worked alongside his country's moderate Islamist president, Sheikh Sharif Ahmed, in the Islamic Courts and they later founded the Alliance for the Re-Liberation of Somalia.

Earlier this year, Ahmed was elected president by lawmakers at U.N.-hosted talks in Djibouti.

Radio stations in Mogadishu said Aweys was in Khartoum and held talks on Tuesday with two senior Sudanese officials. They said he was expected to fly to the Somali capital later to offer his support to Ahmed's new administration.

The endorsement of Aweys would be a boost for Ahmed, who faces the daunting task of trying to establish a new national security force and persuade heavily-armed Islamist guerrillas to back his government in the interests of peace.

But it could prove difficult for the United Nations and Western countries, which were once wary of Islamists being in power but now see Ahmed as the best hope for bringing peace to the failed Horn of Africa state after 18 years of violence.

A close ally of Aweys in Mogadishu, who asked not to be named, told Reuters Aweys was expected to arrive in the city within two weeks. The ally said Awey's plans were not yet clear, but he denied he had met any Sudanese officials.

One senior Somali source in Sudan confirmed Aweys was in the country, and said it was possible Ahmed might travel to Khartoum to meet him there. He gave no other details.

In a Reuters interview by telephone from Asmara earlier this month, Aweys denounced Ahmed as just another Ethiopian stooge and said he was a traitor to the Islamic faith. [ID:nL4915892]

Aweys is on the U.S. list of foreign terrorists, as is the hardline Islamist insurgent group al Shabaab, which controls much of southern and central Somalia. Ahmed has been pushing to have Aweys removed from the list.

Washington accuses Somalia's hardline Islamists of having ties to Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda and fears the chaotic country could be used by foreign groups to destabilise the region. (Additional reporting by Abdiaziz Hassan in Nairobi; Writing by Daniel Wallis; Editing by Giles Elgood)




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