Somalia Says Al-Shabab Seeking Talks for the First Time

Somalia’s government has made a startling announcement that the extremist group al-Shabab has reached out to negotiate for the first time. Deputy Defense Minister Abdifatah Kasim revealed the talks would be open to local Somalis, while those foreign fighters currently in the country would have to return to their original places of residence. President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud expressed his readiness to talk with al-Shabab in September, though the group had yet to agree.

The extremist group of several thousand, made up of both local and foreign fighters, has long sought to implement an Islamic state in Somalia as well as withdraw foreign troops. Its presence has spurred the deployment of military forces from Turkey and the African Union, and the United States maintains an active presence there to combat their activities.

President Mohamud is pushing for a full elimination of al-Shabab this year and has enlisted the assistance of local militias that are reclaiming territories from the group. Despite the pressure that has crippled al-Shabab’s sources of income, they remain potentially dangerous – a pair of bombings this week in the middle of a government offensive killed at least 35 people, and another attack in October left 120 dead in Somalia’s capital of Mogadishu.

Whether or not the offer of talks can now reduce the violence in Somalia remains to be seen, but one thing is clear – if accepted, negotiations would signify a major turning point in the country’s history.

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