GARISA, Somalia – A top Somali lawmaker closely associated with the recently ousted Islamic movement was voted out as speaker Wednesday by parliament, a move that could undermine reconciliation efforts in the restive country.
Lawmakers voted to strip Sharif Hassan Sheik Aden of the position, citing his public criticism of a proposed African peacekeeping mission that parliament had endorsed and his meetings with Islamic movement leaders without authority from parliament.
Deputy Speaker Osman Ilmi Boqore, in a vote count broadcast live on HornAfrik Radio, said that 183 lawmakers supported the motion and only nine present voted against it.
Lawmaker Mohamoud Begos confirmed the vote tally to The Associated Press by phone from Baidoa, where the 275-member parliament is based. A no-confidence vote needs at least 139 lawmakers to vote in favor of it to pass.
Earlier Begos told the AP that Aden's actions have been in "total violation of our transitional charter."
It is not immediately clear if Aden was in Somalia and he could not be reached for comment.
The former speaker had made several freelance peace initiatives with Somalia's Islamic courts before government forces — with key help from Ethiopian troops — ousted them in December from the capital, Mogadishu, and much of southern Somalia that the group had controlled since June.
In Belgium, European Union spokesman Amadeu Altafaj Tadio expressed disappointment at the Somali parliament's move against Aden, who held meetings with EU officials in Belgium earlier this week.
"We saw him as a someone who could make a bridge with the moderate elements," Altafaj said. "We had encouraged him to go back to Mogadishu to carry out his job and bring together as many political players as possible."
Michael E. Ranneberger, the U.S. ambassador to Kenya, said in the Kenyan capital before the vote that Aden was "the kind of person who could pull people together."
The U.S. encourages dialogue in Somalia, including with a key Islamic leader like Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed, who is seen as a moderate, Ranneberger said.
"If he (Ahmed) wanted to play a positive role that should be a possibility. He is a recognized moderate," said Ranneberger, whose portfolio includes Somalia.
Later Wednesday, three warlords who once held sway over parts of Mogadishu handed over at least 40 pickups fitted with machine-guns to the government.
One warlord, Mohamed Qanyare Afrah, said 700 of his militiamen had agreed to be absorbed into government forces. Another, Muse Sudi Yalahow, said that his militiamen had also agreed to join the government forces, although he declined to say how many there were.
The third warlord, Interior Minister Hussein Aided, also said that he had handed over pickups and that his militiamen had joined government forces. He did not give numbers.
Government spokesman Abdirahman Dinari said the transfer of militia weapons and fighters to the government opened, "a new era for the Somali people."
In the past year, Aden also has had differences with President Abdullahi Yusuf and Prime Minister Ali Mohamed Gedi over the location of the government and whether peacekeepers are needed to help stabilize Somalia.
On Wednesday, Gedi told parliament that he ruled out peace talks with the Islamic movement and hoped to see the first African peacekeepers in Somalia by month's end.
So far only Uganda has committed to contributing troops and few others have shown enthusiasm for a proposed 8,000-member African mission to bolster the government's attempt to create law and order.
Since wresting Mogadishu from the Islamic movement, the government has taken several steps meant to assert its authority, with so far uncertain results.
A call for national disarmament was largely ignored. On Monday, President Abdullahi Yusuf appointed a mayor and administration for Mogadishu.
A peacekeeping mission, however, is most likely to face violence, something that may deter many countries from committing soldiers.
There has been sporadic fighting since the government took over Mogadishu on Dec. 28. Leaders of the Islamic movement have pledged to carry on a guerrilla war as long as Ethiopian troops remain in Somalia.
A U.N. peacekeeping force including American troops met disaster in Somalia in 1993, when militiamen shot down two U.S. Army Black Hawk helicopters and battled U.S. troops, killing 18.
Somalia has not had an effective central government since 1991 when warlords overthrew longtime dictator Mohamed Siad Barre and then turned on each other, reducing this Horn of Africa nation to anarchy and clan-based violence.