Somalia bows to reconciliation demands

AP/Houston Chronicle:

Somalia's president agreed today to a national reconciliation conference to try to end 16 years of anarchy in the war-ravaged country, paving the way for the deployment of African peacekeepers.

After intense pressure from the U.S., E.U. and U.N. for all-inclusive political talks, President Abdullahi Yusuf said his government was willing to negotiate despite stiff opposition from within his own administration.

Speaking to journalists at the African Union summit in Addis Ababa, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon said the talks must include moderate leaders from the routed Islamic movement that had threatened to take control of Somalia and had confined the interim government to one farming town.

Yusuf's agreement to national reconciliation was a key component to securing financial and logistical support from the U.S. and E.U. to help in the deployment of an 8,000-strong African Union peacekeeping force. At stake is $20 million from the E.U. for a peacekeeping force and $40 million from the U.S. It would include religious and Somali clan leaders, officials said.

African governments also want reconciliation talks before they begin deploying troops. Yusuf's government need the peacekeepers to help maintain order as Ethiopia, who help prop up his government, begin withdrawing their troops after defeating the rival Islamic movement.

"We would like to negotiate with all Somalis who would like peace, but we cannot negotiate with those who are intent on violence and terrorism," Yusuf said Tuesday on the sidelines of the summit attended by 35 African leaders.

"The peacekeeping force from the African Union will come soon," he added.

The potential of reconciling with the Islamist religious bigots is minimal and the reluctance of the government to go through the ritual is understandable. It is probably more of a way of taking away excuses for further violence than a real means of solving the on going dispute.


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