After initially refusing to take part in peace negotiations, Somalia's transitional government and the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC), which controls the capital Mogadishu, have agreed to resume talks in the Sudanese capital, Khartoum, officials said.
"We have decided to participate in the talks in the interest of the people," Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, the UIC chairman, said on Tuesday.
The two sides announced their participation after meeting a Kenyan delegation to the country, led by Assistant Foreign Affairs Minister Moses Wetangula, on Monday.
Representatives of the transitional government and the UIC met on 22 June in Khartoum and agreed to meet again on 15 July. However, the transitional government failed to attend the July meeting, accusing the UIC of violating the earlier agreement.
The UIC, which controls Mogadishu and much of south and central Somalia, had said it would not take part in any talks as long as Ethiopian troops were in Somalia.
However, Abdirahman Dinari, the government spokesman, said on Tuesday: "The transitional government will participate in the Khartoum talks with the UIC without any preconditions."
Dinari said Prime Minister Ali Muhammad Gedi had called the UIC leadership "to come to the negotiating table in order to find a lasting solution to the country's problems".
Gedi survived a no-confidence vote on 30 July brought by MPs apparently angered by his refusal to send a team to Khartoum to meet the UIC. This was followed by the resignations of at least 40 ministers and assistant ministers, who said they were leaving because Gedi was obstructing the reconciliation process by delaying the talks.
Sheikh Ahmed said the UIC was going into the talks with an open mind. "We want the talks to succeed and bear positive results for the benefit of the long-suffering Somali people."
The talks, which were expected to have begun on Thursday, are now scheduled for 31 August after the UIC requested a postponement. "We have asked for a delay of two weeks to deal with some security issues," Sheikh Ahmed said.
Meanwhile, the UIC has taken control of Haradhere, some 500km northeast of Mogadishu, which had become a safe haven for pirates.
Sheikh Ahmed said UIC forces went to Haradhere at the weekend to deal with pirates who had made the Somali coast a no-go area.
"The activities of these people [pirates] had made life very difficult for ordinary Somalis," he said. "Ships were refusing to deliver food to Somalia for fear of being hijacked. We were asked to do something about it and we did."
He added: "There will be no more hijackings of ships off the coast."
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