African church leaders at the World Social Forum in Nairobi urged governments to use the surrender of the leader of the Union of Islamic Courts of Somalia, Sheikh Sharif Ahmed, as the basis for a peace initiative for the war torn country - writes Fredrick Nzwili for Ecumenical News Interational.
"We should use this opportunity to open dialogue with the Islamists and finally include them in the reconciliation of Somalia," said the Rev Fred Nyabera, who heads the Fellowship of Christian Councils and Churches in the Great Lakes.
Ahmed surrendered at the Kenya-Somalia border after his movement was routed by troops from the country's transitional government who were backed by the Ethiopian army. The UIC had previously held much of southern Somalia, and the capital, Mogadishu.
"Reconciliation for Somalia is not going to be one sided," Nyabera told ENI on 24 January, reacting to calls from the transitional government for the UIC leader to be deported back to Somalia. "The courts will have to be included."
Ahmed is reported as being held at a hotel on the outskirts of Nairobi by Kenya's National Security Intelligence Service.
Kenya has arrested about 100 Somalis who are members of the UIC. Sheikh Ahmed is the highest-ranking leader to surrender. About 3500 other fighters are thought to have hidden their weapons, and are living in Mogadishu as civilians.
Kenyan Anglican Bishop Joseph Wasonga urged United Nations involvement to avoid conflict between Kenya and Somalia. "If Kenya is going to hold one group against the wishes of the other, this will complicate the situation," he said. "That's what we fear."
A small group of Somali nationals held protests during the WSF, urging the gathering to demand the withdrawal of foreign troops from their country.
[With grateful acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, and the Conference of European Churches]