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Somali hardliners urge opposition to accept truce

NAIROBI, June 22 – Somali opposition leaders Sunday urged hard-line Islamists to accept a new ceasefire pact, saying it was the way to bring peace to the shattered nation.

"We are negotiating with those who rejected the truce and hope they will join us," said Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Aden, a top official in the Alliance for the Re-liberation of Somalia (ARS), an umbrella Somali opposition group.

"If we continue with violence, the name of Somalia might be erased from the map," he told exiled Somalis in Nairobi.

Somali Prime Minister Nur Hassan Hussein and ARS chief Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed signed agreements at UN-sponsored talks in Djibouti on June 9, including a three-month truce which is to come into force within a month.

But Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys, an influential radical cleric, has rejected the deal.

The cleric, accused of links to Al-Qaeda by the United States, argued it failed to set a clear deadline for the withdrawal from Somalia of Ethiopian troops.

Aweys and his allies stayed away from the talks, saying they would not take part unless Ethiopian troops backing government forces since late 2006 pulled out of Somalia.

According to the accord, Ethiopians would withdraw after the UN deployed peacekeepers within 120 days of the armistice taking effect.

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The African Union has deployed some 2,600 peacekeepers in Somalia — short of the pledged 8,000 troops — but they have failed to stem violence.

Since their ouster early last year, the Islamists have waged a guerrilla war, which according to international rights groups and aid agencies, has left at least 6,000 civilians dead and displaced hundreds of thousands.

An uninterrupted civil war has plagued Somalia since the 1991 overthrow of President Mohamed Siad Barre, defying numerous peace initiatives and truce deals.

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