Hopes grow for peace talks in Somalia

Feb. 14, 2008 at 4:22 AM
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WASHINGTON, Feb. 14 (UPI) -- Hopes are growing that a new government in Mogadishu may be able to reach a peace deal with the opposition Alliance for the Re-liberation of Somalia.

Somali Prime Minister Nur Hassan Hussein, in Brussels Tuesday, said he was open to talks with the exiled leaders of the opposition aimed at ending the ongoing fighting in Somalia that has cost 6,000 lives and displaced between 1 million and 2 million people.

"He has shown his commitment to an inclusive dialogue with the opposition, civil society, the diaspora and all stakeholders inside and outside Somalia," EU Commissioner for Development and Humanitarian Aid Louis Michel, said in a statement following talks with Hussein.

"He is determined to make inter-Somali reconciliation a reality on the ground," said Michel.

He said the prime minister "has given me his personal commitment" that the new government would develop a "road map" including a new constitution, census and elections.

But the presence of Ethiopian troops in Somalia remained a sticking point.

Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed, the leader of the Eritrea-based Alliance for the Re-liberation of Somalia and the man who headed the loose coalition of Islamist groups that ruled Somalia until the end of 2006, has said that no talks can take place until the Ethiopians leave.

In interviews, Hussein has said that is not acceptable.

Ahmed's coalition, known as the Islamic Courts Union, was booted from Mogadishu at the end of 2006 by the Ethiopian military, which restored the internationally supported transitional federal government -- a move the United States backed.

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