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Eritrean, Ugandan Presidents Discuss Somali Conflict

02 April 2007

The presidents of Eritrea and Uganda have discussed the deteriorating situation in Somalia during a meeting in Eritrea. Meanwhile, several-hundred additional Ethiopian troops have been deployed in the Somali capital to try to quell recent violence there that has killed dozens and sent thousands fleeing. Cathy Majtenyi reports for VOA from Nairobi.

The aim of Monday's meeting between Eritrea's Issaias Afeworki and Uganda's Yoweri Museveni reportedly was to come up with practical steps to restore calm in increasingly violent Mogadishu.

VOA was unable to reach Eritrean authorities for details of the meeting.

Ugandan presidential spokesman John Nagenda tells VOA he is unaware of the exact agenda items of Monday's discussions. He says, in general the meeting was an attempt by the Ugandan president to reach out to his Eritrean counterpart to clear up any misunderstandings.

"The president of Eritrea said that we went there [to Somalia] at the behest of the Americans, for example, in one of his attacks on our being in Mogadishu," he said. "The [Ugandan] president would show that he is not a servant of the Americans or anybody else, but that he is a pan-Africanist who believes that our region should be at peace."

Eritrea vehemently opposes the presence of Ethiopian troops in Somalia, which had first come to the war-torn nation late last year to help Somalia's transitional government oust the Islamic Courts Union.

Relations between Eritrea and Ethiopia are still tense following their 1998-2000 border war.

Eritrea has also urged Uganda to withdraw its 1,500 peacekeeping troops stationed in the capital as part of the African Union peacekeeping mission for Somalia, saying that AU presence in Somalia is making things worse.

Meanwhile, news reports indicate that hundreds of fresh Ethiopian troops were making their way into the capital.

VOA was unable to reach Ethiopian officials for comment. The French news agency quotes a foreign ministry spokesman as denying that Ethiopia has deployed new troops, but that Ethiopian forces were strengthening their positions.

Heavy fighting between Ethiopian troops and insurgents has rocked Mogadishu for the past few days. One Ugandan soldier was killed in the fighting.

Aid agencies estimate that dozens of civilians were killed during the four-day violence and some 10,000 people have fled Mogadishu since late last week.

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