, MOGADISHU, Feb 23 – Senior leaders from Somalia\’s main Sufi group Ahlu Sunna wal Jamaa on Tuesday denounced a deal struck last week by some of its members with the government during a meeting in Addis Ababa.
The Ethiopian foreign ministry had issued a statement on Saturday announcing an agreement between the embattled internationally-backed transitional federal government and the Sufi group to combat the country\’s Islamist insurgency.
But some of the Sufi movement\’s top figures argued that those who reached the deal in Addis were not representative of the group and not authorised to set policy.
"The so-called agreement reached and discussions that took place in Addis Ababa were misleading and created a rift within Ahlu Sunna followers," Sheikh Omar Sheikh Mohamed Farah, a top Ahlu Sunna leader, told AFP in Mogadishu.
He argued that "the Addis deal does the Shebab and other anti-peace groups a favour by promoting some individuals over others and undermining a planned Ahlu Sunna general assembly to be held soon."
Abdulkadir Mohamed Somow, another leader, said that one faction with Ahlu Sunna had "hijacked the process" by dealing directly with the federal government in the organisation\’s name.
He suggested the government was deliberately trying to sow division.
"The Somali government should take Ahlu Sunna seriously and make no unilateral deal with some members who are not elected leaders, disregarding the vast majority," he said.
Ahlu Sunna wal Jamaa took up arms in 2008 to counter the growing threat to its traditional brand of Sufi Islam posed by the Shebab, a self-declared component of Al-Qaeda\’s global jihad.
While inexperienced and poorly trained, the ad hoc Sufi militia is seen by observers as an important component of a planned government-led offensive to root out the Shebab, who currently control 80 percent of the country.
The Sufi group has wide popular support is well established in the Galgudud and Mudug regions of central Somalia but some key federal government members remain deeply suspicious and see them chiefly as political rivals.
Recent reports allege that Ahlu Sunna has sought to secure the post of prime minister in President Sharif Sheikh Ahmed\’s administration in exchange for help in the milittary effort against the insurgents.
Sheikh Mohamed Deeq, a senior figure in Ahlu Sunna, said it was too early to discuss power-sharing and that all should unite in the effort to wrest control of the country back from hardliners.
"The Addis meeting has simply undermined the fight against extremism," he said. "We should not wrangle over power issues until after we liberate Somalis from the Shebab and Hezb al-Islam Al Qaeda agents."
"The Somali government should beware of self-appointed Ahlu Sunna representatives who risk shattering our unity," he said.
For weeks, civilians in Mogadishu and elsewhere have been fleeing their homes in anticipation of the major government offensive.