Somalia’s hardline opposition leader Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys has an important role to play in restoring security to the country after 18 years of ruinous civil war, a government minister said. Aweys, who is on the U.S. terrorism list for alleged links to al Qaeda, returned to the Horn of Africa nation last week in his first known trip home in more than two years.

hardlineHe is an influential figure for many of the Islamist rebels fighting the new government of President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed  who was Aweys’ former partner in the Islamic Courts Union (ICU) that ruled the capital and much of the south in 2006. Despite Aweys’ calls for African Union (AU) forces to leave, some analysts say exile may have mellowed him, and that he could still prove to be an important mediator with insurgents.

Aweys moved to Eritrea after Ethiopian forces chased his sharia courts group out of Mogadishu at the start of 2007. In a Reuters interview late on Thursday, Somali Foreign Minister Mohamed Abdullahi Omaar said a lot had changed since then. “He has been away some time and major developments have taken place in the country. He left because of an issue that has been resolved. Ethiopian troops have withdrawn,” Omaar said.

“Aweys is an elder and a historical figure in Somalia. I believe he has a responsibility for the wellbeing and progress of the Somali people, especially the women and children who are most affected by the war.” After leading the ICU until Addis Ababa’s offensive, Aweys and Ahmed later split, with Aweys taking over the Asmara-based Alliance for the Re-Liberation of Somalia from Ahmed, who was elected president early this year at U.N.-led talks in Djibouti.


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