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U.S. Diplomat Sees Progress in Somalia

23 February 2007

Ambassador Huddleston cites Ethiopian, U.S. help

Washington -- Somalia's struggle to form a unified government after 15 years of clan warfare is achieving success, thanks to partners in the Horn of Africa region like Ethiopia and with help from the United Nations, the African Union (AU) and the United States, Ambassador Vicki Huddleston told the Council on Foreign Relations February 22 in Washington.

Huddleston, a former U.S. envoy to Mali and Madagascar, recently served for 15 months as acting ambassador to Ethiopia, whose government, she said, was instrumental in "pressing for dialogue" between the Somali Transitional Federal Government (TFG) and the Islamic Courts Council (ICC), a radical Islamist movement that had wrested control of the country until driven from power by a coalition of TFG and Ethiopian forces in December 2006 after talks failed.

Before that victory, "many warned that if Ethiopia intervened on behalf of the transitional government it would fuel a wider war.  They were all wrong," Huddleston told the CFR panel.

Now "Ethiopia's and the Somali government's surprisingly easy victories have given Somalia -- and the West -- a second chance to get things right," said Huddleston, who returned in December 2006 from Addis Ababa.

As it stands now, "we do have a success in Somalia," the diplomat said.  After cooperating with the TFG to remove the ICC threat, she added, "about one-third of the Ethiopian troops have already withdrawn.  There will be a second phase and third phase of withdrawal that hopefully will coincide with the arrival of AU peacekeepers."

Nations that volunteered troops for the AU force in a move recently approved by the U.N. Security Council include Uganda, Burundi and "possibly Nigeria and Tanzania," Huddleston told the panel.

The United Nations approved a force of 8,000 peacekeepers, of which about 4,000 have been pledged so far. The United States will support the deployment by providing $15 million for airlift and other logistics, she added. (See related article.)

"A window of opportunity has opened" in Somalia, Huddleston said, and "before the Islamists close it by disrupting efforts to stabilize Mogadishu … strong U.S. leadership will prevent Somalia from becoming a haven for al-Qaida terrorism in Africa."

The United States has taken a lead in bringing together the international community in a concerted effort to turn Somalia into a viable state through the International Contact Group on Somalia.

Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Jendayi Frazer, who represents the United States in the group, has placed Somalia high on her agenda.  After making a number of visits to the region, she recently briefed the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Subcommittee on Africa on the crisis.

After a trip in January, Frazer told the panel, "The most striking lesson I took away from the visit is this: Somalis are ready for peace.  While developments on the ground have maintained a frenetic pace, there are many reasons to be hopeful."

"Along with our African and international partners, the United States will remain engaged in supporting … the process of dialogue, while also attending to the humanitarian needs of the Somali people," she said. At the last contact group meeting, Frazer said, the United States pledged $40.5 million in new funding for Somalia.

Somalis themselves are working to achieve national unity, especially on the military level, Huddleston told the CFR panel.

About 10,000 Somalis have been merged into a TFG security force representing all the clans.  This is important, she emphasized, because "in the end, whether Somalia succeeds or not will depend on all Somalis" and their ability to govern themselves and provide their own security.

Politically, TFG President Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed also took "a great step" in the right direction in organizing a political conference of 3,000 clan leaders from around the country, the diplomat added.

A country not contributing to stability in Somalia, according to Huddleston, is Eritrea, which, she said, "hoped to use the conflict in Somalia to destabilize its archenemy Ethiopia."  But this tactic failed, the diplomat told the CFR audience.

The full text of Frazer’s remarks as prepared for delivery to the Africa Subcommittee is available on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Web site.

(USINFO is produced by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)

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