May 14, 2009 / 5:07 PM / 10 years ago

INTERVIEW-U.N. envoy "destroying" Somalia - Aweys

* U.N. envoy "destroying" Somalia, Aweys says

* Presence of foreign militants exaggerated

* No talks with interim government



By Abdiaziz Hassan

MOGADISHU, May 14 (Reuters) - Hardline opposition leader Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys accused the U.N. special envoy to Somalia on Thursday of "destroying" the Horn of Africa nation, and dismissed talks with the interim government.

Aweys is seen as an influential figure among insurgents in Somalia where he has headed numerous Islamist groups since the 1990s including the Islamic Courts Union that controlled Mogadishu and much of the south in 2006 before being ousted by Ethiopian soldiers later that year.

The 62-year-old cleric told Reuters in an interview that U.N. envoy Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah was harming Somalis by only supporting the weak transitional government.

"It is a surprise to see Ould-Abdallah destroying Somalia when he, as a Muslim, has an obligation of being honest of what he has to do for Somalis," Aweys said.

"He consistently defends the government policies as if he is the president of this country, and he is not playing his role of engaging every side of the conflict."

The world body was not immediately available for comment.

Since the weekend, some of the fiercest clashes in Somalia for months between opposition and pro-government forces have killed at least 139 people and wounded more than 400 others [ID:nLE928881].

Aweys along with President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed led the ICU, which briefly ushered in a time of stability in Somalia before being ousted in December 2006.

"This war is between Somalis who tasted the sweetness of being free and stability and aides of foreign enemies against their interest ... It is a political war," he said.

Somalia’s 18 years of civil conflict has killed tens of thousands of people, displaced millions and created one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises.



FOREIGN FIGHTERS

Aweys — whom the United States accuses of links to al Qaeda — said reports that foreign militants had flocked to Somalia to aid insurgents were embellished.

"It is possible that young, excited Muslim men had arrived in Somalia individually, but it is unfortunate to exaggerate this as a hideout for foreign fighters," he said.

"As Somalis, we reach our own decisions, and we had not requested any organisation or governments to come and fight along with us."

Western security agencies have long feared that Somalia with its porous borders and lack of central rule could become a haven for terrorist organisations and could breed extremism.

Aweys has denied rumours that he has links to terrorists.

He reiterated that he would not enter into talks with the government until African Union peacekeepers leave. The presence of foreign soldiers has been a sticking point for opposition figures since Ethiopia’s 2006 invasion.

"The troops who came to keep Muslim leaders away from the leadership have to leave the country. (Then) we are granting every Somali that there will be no fighting. We will sit together and solve everything through dialogue," he said. (For a factbox on Aweys click [ID:nL1367419]) (Writing by Jack Kimball; Editing by Janet Lawrence)




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