October 7, 2009 / 6:53 PM / 9 years ago

Somalia's two main rebel groups agree truce

MOGADISHU (Reuters) - Somalia’s two main insurgent groups agreed a truce on Wednesday to end days of clashes between them in the south of the failed Horn of Africa state.

Fighters from al Shabaab, which Washington says is al Qaeda’s proxy in the country, drove rival Hizbul Islam gunmen out of Kismayu port last week then the two rebel groups battled each other in surrounding districts.

On Tuesday, Hizbul Islam’s leader Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys called for an end to the bloodshed.

On Wednesday, al Shabaab said rebel officials met on the outskirts of the capital Mogadishu and agreed three points.

“All conflicts, including what happened in Kismayu, must be resolved through dialogue,” Hussein Ali Fidow, a senior al Shabaab official, told reporters, reading a joint statement.

“Any disputes in the future should be referred to a sharia court, and we should also continue our attacks together against the government and African Union peacekeepers.”

A Hizbul Islam commander confirmed the details of the deal.

Until last week’s battle for Kismayu, the country’s two main insurgent movements had controlled Kismayu port and much of southern and central Somalia in an uneasy alliance.

Western donors had long hoped hardliners in al Shabaab could be isolated by a deal between more moderate Hizbul leaders and President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed’s government.

Ahmed has had little luck luring Aweys to his side, but a worsening rift between the insurgents could have provided his fragile administration with some much needed breathing space.

Fighting in Somalia has killed 19,000 civilians since the start of 2007 and driven another 1.5 million from their homes.

Writing by Daniel Wallis; Editing by Jon Hemming

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