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Ethiopian Foreign Minister Expected to Mediate in Somali Political Crisis

25 September 2007

Ethiopia's foreign minister is expected to travel soon to Somalia's seat of government in Baidoa to help resolve a deepening political crisis sparked by a dispute between the country's top leaders. VOA Correspondent Alisha Ryu in our East Africa Bureau in Nairobi has details.

The Ethiopian government has not publicly announced Foreign Minister Seyoum Mesfin's impending trip to Somalia.

But Somali sources tell VOA that the foreign minister is expected in Baidoa any day now to try and mediate an end to the political quarrel that began last Friday between Somali President Abdullahi Yusuf and Prime Minister Ali Mohamed Gedi.

Since Friday, the president and the prime minister have reportedly been in talks to iron out their differences. But the political crisis has evidently grown serious enough to require urgent mediation from Ethiopia, whose troops helped Somalia's U.N.-backed transitional government seize power from Islamists nine months ago.

The Somali leaders, both staunch allies of Ethiopia, clashed after the country's Attorney General Abdullahi Dahir Barre, a close associate of President Yusuf, ordered the arrest of the chief justice of the supreme court and another judge on corruption charges.

Prime Minister Gedi called the arrests illegal and fired the attorney general. The attorney general has refused to step down, saying only the president has the authority to dismiss him.

Ethiopia's foreign minister is thought to have good relations with both President Yusuf and Prime Minister Gedi and has mediated disputes between the two leaders in the past.

Somalia's Deputy Speaker of Parliament Mohamed Omar Dhalha tells VOA that members of parliament want to appoint a committee to conduct a separate investigation.

"It is clear there is a problem between the government and the judiciary," he said. "We want to investigate, and I can tell you [the facts] only when we receive full information and when we understand what is going on and what is the reality on the ground."

Meanwhile, VOA has learned that Adan Hashi Ayro, the founder of Somalia's radical Islamic youth movement called the Shabbab, has returned to the Somali capital Mogadishu, after he fled the city last year ahead of advancing Ethiopian and Somali troops.

Ayro and several other radical Islamists were targeted by the U.S. military in an Islamist stronghold near the Somali-Kenyan border in January. Ayro was reportedly wounded in one of the attacks but survived.

It is not yet clear if Ayro, who was trained by the al-Qaida terror network in Afghanistan, has again assumed leadership of the Shabbab. Since the Islamic Courts Union lost power, many Shabbab members have been active in the guerrilla insurgency against the interim government in Mogadishu and elsewhere.

In Asmara, Eritrea Monday, the newly-formed Somali opposition group called the Alliance for the Re-Liberation of Somalia, announced that former defense chief of the Islamic Courts movement, Yusuf Inda'ade, would lead the fight against Ethiopian forces in Somalia.

The spokesman for the opposition group, Zakariya Mahamud Abdi, says that Inda'ade is already in Mogadishu with the insurgents, leading the resistance. But residents in the capital largely dismiss that claim, noting that Ayro would not likely tolerate a rival for control of the Shabbab fighters.

The Eritrea-backed alliance, made up of Islamists, deposed lawmakers and Somali diaspora activists, have vowed to use all means to expel Ethiopia from Somalia and has taken credit for a string of attacks against Ethiopian and government troops in Mogadishu in recent days.

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