- The weak but internationally recognised government of Somalia has signed a peace deal with a powerful Sufi Muslim rebel group, which is to enter government. The move is set to weaken the fundamentalist al-Shabab Islamists.
The pact was signed at the African Union (AU) headquarters in Addis Ababa. It provides for the Ahlu Sunnah Wal Jama'a rebel group to enter Somalia's transitional government. Ahlu Sunnah is to be given control of five ministries in Mogadishu.
Ahlu Sunnah will also join government's fight against the al-Qaeda-supportive al-Shabab Islamists. This is seen as a major boost in favour of government, which slowly has lost control of the country after Ethiopian troops left.
The new pact follows a declaration signed last June between the government and Ahlu Sunnah Wal Jama'a in Nairobi. Ahlu Sunnah is seen as one of the most powerful armed groups in Somalia, disagreeing with al-Shabab over interpretations of Islam.
The move was today hailed by the AU, which has peacekeepers in Somalia, and the top UN envoy to Somalia, Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah. The envoy in a statement of congratulation even said this proved Somalia was now transitioning from a "failed to a fragile state."
According to the UN Political Office for Somalia (UNPOS), it is also in the spirit of the 2008 Djibouti Agreement, a peace accord between the transitional government and Alliance for the Re-liberation of Somalia (ARS) that was meant to pave the way for the cessation of all armed conflict across the troubled country.
The new pact was described as a signal that "things can and are changing in Somalia," Mr Ould-Abdallah added.
The UN envoy voiced optimism that rapprochement among Somalis will be stepped up, as the "old barrier built against stability in Somalia is slowly being brought down."
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported earlier this year that clashes between Ahlu Sunnah Wal Jama'a and al-Shabaab killed or injured more than 150 people and uprooted thousands in central Somalia.
Last week, the agency expressed its deep concern for the safety of more than 8,000 people trapped in the capital, Mogadishu, by clashes which have uprooted more than 100,000 people since the start of the year.
Some 8,300 people who do not have the means to get out of the capital remain displaced in Mogadishu, according to UNHCR.
"As the fighting rages on, aid agencies cannot access and assist these extremely vulnerable internally displaced persons," the UN agency's spokesperson Andrej Mahecic told reporters in Geneva.
Characterising the clashes in both the capital and other parts of the Horn of Africa nation as "relentless and indiscriminate," UNHCR said the situation for civilians continues to deteriorate.
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