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US Bans Contact With Islamist Leader In Somalia
WASHINGTON, Jun 27, 2006 – The United States on Monday ruled out any contact with the new leader of Somalia's powerful Islamists because he is on a U.S. terrorist list but left the door slightly open to dealing with the group later on.
Hard-line Muslim cleric Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys, who is also on a U.N. list of al Qaeda associates, was named head of the Council of the Islamic Courts over the weekend.
"Of course we are not going to work with somebody like that and of course we would be troubled if this (choice) is an indicator of the direction that this group would go in," said State Department spokesman Sean McCormack.
Pressed whether this meant the United States would not deal with any member of the group in the future, he replied: "Let's wait, let's see what the collective leadership of this group does."
McCormack said there were a lot of "shifting sands" in terms of the leadership and composition of the Islamists and the United States was waiting to see what happened.
The Council of the Islamic Courts is a parliament for the Islamists, whose militias seized Somalia's capital Mogadishu from U.S.-backed warlords on June 5 after months of fighting that killed at least 350 people.
The moderate face of the courts, Sheikh Sharif Ahmed, was named head of an executive committee in charge of the courts' administration, which will implement the parliament's decisions.
The rise of Aweys has alarmed the United States, which fears the Islamists want to establish Taliban-style rule in Somalia, despite repeated denials by Ahmed.
Asked whether the United States would push for the arrest of Aweys should he, for example, attend international meetings to discuss Somalia, McCormack said he did not know the legal status for anyone on the list.
McCormack said the United States had not yet had any formal meetings with the Islamists, except for a brief encounter between a U.S. diplomat in Sudan's capital Khartoum for meetings and one of the Islamists.
"It wasn't a meeting that was set up in advance. It was a chance encounter," he said.
Somalia expert Princeton Lyman criticized the State Department for immediately ruling out any contact with Aweys.
"At this point we should not be making firm stands on who we will or won't talk to and who has influence," said Lyman from the Council on Foreign Relations.
He suggested the United States should involve Somalia's neighbors and interested countries such as Norway and Britain to find a negotiated solution to Somalia, which has not had an effective government since 1991.
Lyman pointed out that Somalis generally were not in favor of strict Islamic law and the rise of Aweys could lead to a split in the Islamic courts which could result in even more chaos.
The U.S. move came on the same day that the Islamists said in Mogadishu they would stone to death five rapists. McCormack made no comment on these planned executions.