(AFP) – Jul 15, 2008
NAIROBI (AFP) — Somali Prime Minister Nur Hassan Hussein said Tuesday he was ready to talk to anyone, even to resign, if that would bring peace to his country which has been wracked by violence for nearly two decades.
"I am here to serve the people and not to claim power," Hussein told AFP in the Kenyan capital.
"That is why I am calling on all factions to come to the table and we talk peace."
Asked if he would talk with the Shebab, a hardline group accused of having links to Al-Qaeda extremists, he said: "I will talk to anyone who can contribute for peace in our country."
He added: "I am ready to sacrifice my position as prime minister if that is going to help pacify Somalia."
Hussein, 70, took office in November 2007 with a pledge to restore lasting peace. His predecessor, Ali Mohamed Gedi, was forced to resign for failing to stem insurgency.
Somalia has nevertheless been plagued by relentless fighting between Hussein's forces, backed by Ethiopian troops, and Islamist insurgents mainly in the capital.
"Violence is intensifying in Mogadishu every day despite the fact that a ceasefire entered into force last week," he acknowledged.
Hussein was referring to a July 9 deadline for the implementation of a truce, initialled last month by the government and top leaders from the main Islamist-dominated opposition movement in Djibouti.
The June 9 accord gave all sides a month to start enforcing a ceasefire.
But it was quickly rejected by Islamist hardliners including the Shebab group, which insists that the Ethiopian forces should withdraw before any talks start.
"Ethiopia has said it will withdraw its troops from Somalia once the UN sends peacekeepers and we are all waiting for those peacekeepers to arrive," Hussein added.
As another aid worker died in Somalia, Hussein blamed the rebels for the deaths of at least 12 such workers in the country.
"I have no illusion who are the attacking and killing aid workers. That is the work of the insurgents," he said.
In the latest incident Tuesday, gunmen killed a transport agent working for the World Food Programme, the agency reported.
He was the fifth WFP-contracted worker to be killed this year in Somalia.
The attacks on aid workers have slowed delivery of supplies to the 2.6 million people who are struggling with acute food shortages.
UN famine monitors have warned that the figure could climb to 3.4 million by year-end in the face of prolonged drought, insecurity and high inflation.
But aid groups have been forced to scale down operations in Somalia because of the attacks on their workers.
The violence continued Tuesday as insurgents attacked a Somali military base in Mogadishu, triggering clashes that claimed at least four people and wounded seven others.
The insurgents have been waging a guerrilla war since they were ousted from large swathes of the country's southern and central regions by Ethiopian and Somali forces early last year.
Since then, many civilians have been killed and hundreds of thousands displaced, mainly from Mogadishu, the epicentre of fighting.
Bloody power struggles in Somalia have defied numerous bids to restore order since the country descended into chaos after the 1991 ouster of dictator Mohamed Siad Barre.
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