US, Ethiopia praise former Somali foe, now leader

January 31, 2009

sheikh-sharifAfter two years since Ethiopia-US alliance to oust Somali ‘Islamists’, today both Washington & Addis Ababa welcome return of ICU leader as president.

ADDIS ABABA – The election of Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed as the new president of war-ravaged Somalia could be a step towards peace and benefit the whole region, Ethiopia’s prime minister said Saturday.

The young cleric, who ran as the head of the Islamic-dominated opposition movement Alliance for the Re-liberation of Somalia, took the oath on the Koran Friday during a ceremony in Djibouti.

“It’s the decision of the Somalis. If they are happy with their own elections, everybody else should be happy,” Prime Minister Meles Zenawi said on the sidelines of talks here ahead of the annual African Union summit.

“We are very happy with the fact that Sheikh Sharif has been elected. Following the path that he has been taking for the past six, nine months that will be very helpful for Somalia and the region as a whole,” he added.

The Ethiopian leader said that Sheikh Sharif’s election would help peace efforts in the country, saying: “It could be one step forward.”

Sheikh Sharif is expected to travel to Addis to represent his country at the AU summit, which starts on Sunday.

Addis Ababa only completed its withdrawal from Somalia a few days ago.

US welcomes Somalia’s new president

The United States welcomed cleric Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed’s election as Somali president Saturday and vowed to support his efforts to restore stability in the Horn of Africa nation.

In a statement issued by its embassy in Nairobi, the US government congratulated the former opposition leader on his victory.

“President Sharif has been a strong proponent of the Djibouti process and has worked diligently on reconciliation efforts in Somalia,” it said referring to UN-sponsored peace talks in Djibouti, where Saturday’s vote was held.

“We urge President Sharif to reach out to the broad spectrum of Somalis who reject violence and extremism in forming a new government,” the statement said.

Outgoing prime minister Nur Hassan Hussein, long a darling of the international community, pulled out of the race after the first round.

“The United States looks forward to cooperating with President Sharif and his broad-based government on these efforts to establish democracy and achieve peace in Somalia,” the US statement added.

The Ethiopian army – with US blessing and support – invaded Somalia in late 2006 to rescue Somalia’s embattled transitional government and oust the ICU, which controlled of much of the country’s central and southern regions.

The ICU had ruled much of Somalia with relative peace and prosperity until the Ethiopian involvement.

But Ethiopian troops have caused many casualties among Somali civilians.

Since the Ethiopian invasion, about one million Somalis have fled their homes. An estimated 6,500 civilians have been killed.

Aid workers estimate 2.6 million Somalis need assistance.

In May 2008, Amnesty International accused the Ethiopian troops in Somalia of increasingly resorting to throat-slitting executions, highlighting an “increasing incidence” of gruesome methods by Ethiopian forces that include rape and torture.

Since the ousting of the ICU, Somalia had plunged into unprecedented chaos, where warlords and pirates have returned to the scene.

Sheikh Sharif, the head of the ICU, was sent into exile with the ICU’s leadership.

Sheikh Sharif then formed an Islamic-dominated opposition umbrella group and last year led its moderate wing into peace talks with the transitional government, then headed by Hussein.

Source Middle Eeast Online