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Cablegate: Ars Ready to Talk

VZCZCXRO7501
RR RUEHROV
DE RUEHAE #0249/01 1281417
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
R 071417Z MAY 08
FM AMEMBASSY ASMARA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 9652
INFO RUCNIAD/IGAD COLLECTIVE
RUEHDO/AMEMBASSY DOHA 0114
RUEHRH/AMEMBASSY RIYADH 1296
RUEHYN/AMEMBASSY SANAA 1848
RUEHTRO/AMEMBASSY TRIPOLI
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC
RUEKDIA/DIA WASHDC
RHMFISS/CDR USCENTCOM MACDILL AFB FL
RUMICEA/JICCENT MACDILL AFB FL
RUEPADJ/CJTF-HOA J2X CAMP LEMONIER DJ
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHDC

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 ASMARA 000249

SIPDIS

LONDON AND PARIS FOR AFRICA WATCHERS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 05/06/2018
TAGS: PREL ER SO DJ
SUBJECT: ARS READY TO TALK

ASMARA 00000249 001.2 OF 002

Classified By: Ambassador Ronald K. McMullen for reason 1.4 (d)

1. (C) SUMMARY: The leadership of the Alliance for the Re-liberation of Somalia (ARS) is committed to UN-brokered discussions with representatives of the Somali Transitional Federal Government (TFG) scheduled to commence May 10 in Djibouti. Their willingness to enter into these talks should not be misconstrued as ARS interest in "joining the TFG," ARS leaders emphasized. They also claim this is a risk they are taking for peace in Somalia, and could cost them the goodwill of their "hosts" (i.e., Eritrea) and could precipitate a split within the ARS. The ARS leaders strongly requested "U.S. political and moral support." End Summary.

2. (C) OFF TO DJIBOUTI - FOR GOOD?
-----------------------------------

Three senior ARS leaders met with the ambassador and poloff May 6 to discuss the Djibouti talks. The decision to participate in the UN-facilitated discussion is not universally popular within the ranks of the ARS, although most of the senior leaders in the Executive and Central Committees support participation. The ARS leaders reported that Eritrea is opposed to the talks and fears the ARS "is going out of their hand." They said Eritrea's pique with Djibouti for hosting the talks is reflected in the ongoing border tension. Participating in the Djibouti talks "is going to cost us" they acknowledged, specifying that it could jeopardize ARS unity and Eritrean support. One ARS interlocutor implied he and others may not be returning to Asmara.

3. (C) THREE-STAGE TALKS, BUT WITH WHOM? -----------------------------------------

The ARS will have a seven-person delegation at the talks, with Abdirahman Abdi the designated "team leader." (See bio note below.) Other ARS leaders would be in Djibouti but not part of the delegation. The first two rounds of talks will take place in Djibouti, the ARS leaders said, with the third planned for Saudi Arabia, where the ARS and TFG would sign a "Final Agreement" if warranted. They were uncertain who would represent the TFG. The ARS leaders had a positive view of Prime Minister Hussein and voiced suspicions about President Yusuf. They said the composition of the TFG team would be a good indication of whether the TFG was sincere or not.

4. (SBU) WANTED: STRIPED SHIRT WITH BLUE HELMET --------------------------------------------- ----

The ambassador noted that Ethiopia wanted to withdraw from Somalia, a goal shared by the ARS. How best to establish conditions to enable that to happen? The ARS leaders quickly answered, "The Ethiopians should withdraw and be replaced by a UN peacekeeping mission." They argued that there is insufficient trust between the ARS and TFG to permit them to jointly administer Somalia without some "neutral referee." The United Nations is their pick to play this role.

5. (C) "WORST EVER" CONDITIONS ON THE GROUND ---------------------------------------------

The ARS leaders said violence and chaos in Somalia was at the worst level in 17 years. They said that average Somalis focus their frustration and anger on the Ethiopian troops and were not particularly concerned about differentiating between what groups were opposing "the Ethiopian occupiers." They acknowledged that ARS militiamen were active. While the ARS leadership recognized the need to discuss peace and stability with the TFG, the man and woman in the street just wanted an end to the violence and the Ethiopians out, they claimed.

6. (C) THE ARS AND AL-SHABAAB
------------------------------

Al-Shabaab's social, religious, and political ideology is not popular with Somalis, the ARS leaders stated, but Al-Shabaab has gained support for its forceful opposition to Ethiopian ASMARA 00000249 002.2 OF 002 troops. Interestingly, one of our ARS interlocutors commented, "We have looked into this carefully and don't think Al-Shabaab leaders currently have links with Al-Qaida, but they would like to." When asked to characterize relations between the ARS and Al-Shabaab, our interlocutors answered, "They announced they are going to massacre us." The ARS leaders said the best way to eliminate Al-Shabaab or any extremists is not through military action, but by "turning society against them," which the ARS claimed it would do when in a position of authority. They added that while in Djibouti the Government of Djibouti would be providing for their security.

7. (C) FRIENDS IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD
-----------------------------------

The ARS leaders affirmed that Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Yemen have been supportive. Libya "is hard to read," they mused. While Eritrea's efforts to maintain its influence with the ARS have been heavy-handed, the ARS confided that pressure from the GSE lessened a bit after Isaias' recent discussions with King Abdullah in Riyadh.

8. (C) USG POLITICAL AND MORAL SUPPORT SOUGHT --------------------------------------------- -

The ARS leaders feel that by participating in the Djibouti talks they are going out on a limb to promote peace and stability in Somalia; they fear that hard-liners in both camps could torpedo the discussions and leave the ARS politically isolated. They are somewhat dismayed by the lack of U.S. support. When asked what sort of support they had in mind, the ARS response was "political and moral." They also voiced concerns about a split within the ARS if the talks were to fail, a situation that would see hard-liners on the ascent, they cautioned.

9. (C) BIO NOTE ON ABDIRAHMAN ABDI
-----------------------------------

Reportedly tagged as the ARS "team leader" in the Djibouti talks, Abdirahman Abdi is tall, broad, relatively young, and well-spoken. He has studied in Malaysia and resided for a number of years in the UK, where he served as the sexton or administrator of a mosque that suffered a takeover attempt by a radical Islamist. His official position in the ARS is First Deputy Chairman of the Central Committee. Fluent in English, he was focused and cordial in his discussions with Emboffs. Upon departure he said he would appreciate a point of contact at the American Embassy in Djibouti. MCMULLEN 0 05/07/2008 6368 PREL,ER,SO,DJ The leadership of the Alliance for the Re-liberation of Somalia (ARS) is committed to UN-brokered discussions with representatives of the Somali Transitional Federal Government (TFG) scheduled to commence May 10 in Djibouti. Their willingness to enter into these talks should not be misconstrued as ARS interest in "joining the TFG," ARS leaders emphasized. They also claim this is a risk they are taking for peace in Somalia, and could cost them the goodwill of their "hosts" (i.e., Eritrea) and could precipitate a split within the ARS. The ARS leaders strongly requested "U.S. political and moral support."

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