September 25, 2010 / 1:56 PM / 9 years ago

Moderate Islamist group walks out of Somali govt

MOGADISHU (Reuters) - A moderate Islamist group that signed a power sharing deal with Somalia’s government in March this year to help quell a raging insurgency has withdrawn from the administration, days after the prime minister quit.

Before joining the government, the Ahlu Sunna Waljamaca (ASWJ) militia group had pushed back al Qaeda linked al Shabaab and Hizbul Islam rebels in central Somalia, and its entry into government was meant to help defeat the extremists.

Sheikh Abdullahi Sheikh Abu Yusuf, the spokesman of ASWJ told Reuters on Saturday the group had left the government after its failure to meet certain agreements reached when they agreed a power-sharing deal.

Their exit is likely to further weaken President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed’s push against the rebels, and herald more of the internal divisions that have beset the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) and slowed government business to a crawl.

The group accused the administration of planning to abolish it and called for a reconciliation conference.

“From now on, we as Ahlu Sunna Waljamaca declare that the treaty we have signed with the government in Addis Ababa has ended,” the spokesman Yusuf said.

“The government itself has caused that. We were not in Sharmarke’s government or any other next government. We shall continue fighting against the al Shabaab and Hizbul Islam to keep our controlled areas peaceful.”

Somalia’s Prime Minister Omar Abdirashid Sharmarke resigned on Tuesday, paying the price for the government’s failure to rein the rebels, who have killed thousands of civilians. The lack of progress is threatening to topple the administration.

ASWJ had no cabinet members in the government of the departed PM despite being promised five when they joined earlier this year. They have warned that Sharmarke’s departure will only worsen Somalia’s insecurity.

“We urge holding a reconciliation conference to bring Somalis together to get an effective authority that can rid the country of terrorists and foreign fighters,” Yusuf said.

ASWJ is made up of moderate Sufi Muslims, in a country with a rich Sufi tradition going back five centuries.

Two insurgent groups have been fighting the Horn of Africa nation’s government since the start of 2007 and the Western-backed administration has been hemmed into a few blocks of the capital Mogadishu since a rebel offensive last May.

Al Qaeda-linked al Shabaab militants have stepped up their offensive to topple the government in the last six weeks. A suicide bomber blew himself up outside the presidential palace compound on Monday night, wounding two peacekeepers.

The rebels have used suicide bombers to devastating effect over the past two years, killing five government ministers and dozens of AU peacekeeping troops. Al Shabaab was also behind attacks in Uganda in July that killed at least 79 people.

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