SOMALIA: AU to support peace and reconciliation efforts
ADDIS ABABA, 21 March 2007 (IRIN) - The African Union will support a reconciliation conference being organised by Somalia's transitional government in an effort to build peace in the war-torn country, a top AU official said.
Somalia's Transitional Federal Government (TFG) is planning to hold the conference in April. It will last two months and is expected to include 3,000 representatives of various clans and the diaspora, as well as religious and political groups.
"I was highly encouraged by the government of Somalia, which is strongly committed to discussion and reconciliation," AU Peace and Security Commissioner, Said Djinnit, told reporters in the Somali capital, Mogadishu, on Wednesday. "We will be glad to take part [in the conference] as the African Union; to help and advise in whatever way we can."
Djinnit, on a first visit to the city since the AU peacekeeping troops were deployed on 6 March to support the fledgling TFG, said he was visiting to get a first-hand account of the security situation.
He met President Abdullahi Yusuf, Prime Minister Ali Gedi and other TFG officials, and visited the headquarters of the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM).
"We had an opportunity to exchange views and I have first-hand information about the security situation in Somalia and the ongoing political process," Djinnit said. "We also exchanged views on how to enhance AMISOM to continue its work in support of TFG institutions and the peace and reconciliation process."
Yusuf said his government would try to include all Somali interest groups in the conference. "The date [of the conference] is 16 April," he told reporters at Villa Somalia palace. "The proceedings will go on for 60 days. We are inviting the international community to come and participate."
At a meeting with AMISOM commander, Maj Gen Levi Karuhanga, Djinnit hailed the peacekeeping mission for its work so far. "We are confident the people of Somalia, particularly of Mogadishu, understand that they are coming here to support peace and reconciliation," the commissioner said.
The AU has so far deployed two battalions of just over 1,500 Ugandan peacekeepers, out of a planned 8,000, for six months. Burundi, Nigeria, Ghana and Malawi have also pledged to contribute. Karuhanga appealed for more troops.
With the deployment of the first AU troops, the Somali interim parliament voted to move the TFG to Mogadishu from its temporary seat in Baidoa. After the vote, barely three months after Ethiopian-backed government forces ousted the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC) from the city, the president moved to Mogadishu.
The government pledged to secure and stabilise the city within 30 days. But residents, who have borne the brunt of daily mortar and small arms fire from insurgents, have continued to flee Mogadishu.
"I undertook this visit for symbolic reason; on behalf of the African Union Commission and the African leadership," Djinnit said. "The solution to the problem in Somalia lies in the hands of the Somali people themselves."
Copyright © IRIN 2007
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