Thursday, June 15, 2006

Key US talks on Somali Islamists

The United States is convening an international meeting in New York, to discuss the military successes in Somalia of the Islamic militia.

The talks come as the Islamists expand their grip on the country.
They have seized much of southern Somalia, including the capital, from warlords who are widely believed to have the backing of the United States.

The UK and Tanzania are among those at the talks, but the Arab League and Kenya are unhappy at being excluded.

Kenya has played a crucial role in long-running Somali peace talks, which led to the formation of a fragile interim government, based in the town of Baidoa, because the capital, Mogadishu is too dangerous.

US setback

Somalia's deputy ambassador to the United Nations, Id Bedal, told the BBC's Network Africa programme that other key African countries should have been invited - but that he welcomed the US move in any case.

He said Somalia was not asking for American military help, but for diplomatic and financial support.

The Islamist victory in Mogadishu is seen as a major setback for US policy in the region.
Residents of the town of Beledweyne, near the Ethiopian border, have set up their own Islamic court.

The Reuters news agency reports that forces from the Union of Islamic Courts are also advancing on the town.

They have also been consolidating their control of Jowhar, 90km north of Mogadishu.
The AFP news agency reports that the Islamists have been holding talks with local clan elders in the house of the ousted Jowhar leader, Mohamed Dhere.

The Islamists are setting up an Islamic legal system and are enforcing a "no-gun" rule in the city, AFP reports.

Somalia has not had an effective national government for 15 years, during which time it has been fought over by a host of different armed factions.

The UK, Norway, Sweden, Italy, Tanzania and representatives from the European Union are taking part in the New York talks.

The United Nations and African Union have also been invited to observe.

Somali President Abdullahi Yusuf and some Kenya-based diplomats have criticised the US for supporting the warlords.

The US has neither confirmed nor denied the reports but says it will stop Somalia becoming a safe haven for terrorists.

On Wednesday, the Somali parliament voted for the deployment of an African peacekeeping force in the country - strongly opposed by the Islamists.

Under their proposals, the peacekeeping force would arrive in two phases - the first involving only troops from Uganda and Sudan.

The second phase could involve troops from other regional countries including Ethiopia, which has backed some warlords.

The interim government has asked the United Nations to lift its arms embargo in the country.

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