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SOMALIA: Reconciliation talks move closer in Djibouti

NAIROBI, 3 June 2008 (IRIN) - Representatives of Somalia's Transitional Federal Government (TFG) and an Eritrea-based opposition alliance met in Djibouti for the second time in less than four weeks for peace talks, with the government and civil society expressing hope about the outcome.

"I am optimistic that we will find a way to overcome our differences and find solutions," Ahmed Abdisalam, the deputy prime minister and leader of the government delegation, told IRIN on 3 June.

Abdisalam said the Somalis themselves were the only ones who could solve their problems, "so we need to sit down, talk about our differences and resolve them. The alternative is to give up and abdicate our responsibilities."

However, Dahir Mahamud Gelle, the spokesman for the opposition Alliance for the Re-liberation of Somalia, better known as "The Alliance", said his group had not yet held direct talks with the government and had, so far, been dealing with the UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General, Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah.

"We have had a productive meeting with Ould-Abdallah and we are continuing with this," Gelle announced.

He said they were insisting that before direct talks between the sides could be held, "the international community must come up with a solution to the occupation of Ethiopian troops in our country."

The Alliance has repeatedly refused to open dialogue with the TFG until Ethiopian troops leave Somalia. However, in April, it agreed to dialogue through a third party "until an acceptable timetable is set for the departure of the Ethiopians".

Representatives of Somalia's civil society said they were hopeful that the presence of a visiting UN Security Council delegation in Djibouti would pressure the two sides to reach a compromise settlement.

"For this [dialogue] to succeed both sides need to show flexibility and compromise and think of the interests of the millions who are suffering," Abdullahi Shirwa of the Civil Society Forum told IRIN.

However, he expressed fear that divisions within both camps could derail the talks.

"The divisions on both sides are very worrying and could scuttle the process."

He said that Somali civil society groups in Djibouti had called on the international community to help the millions of people who were either displaced or affected by the drought in the country. "There is a need for a more robust humanitarian intervention in the country to avert a catastrophe," he added.

He said that in their meeting with the UN Security Council delegation, they made it clear that the Ethiopian troops should leave and be replaced by an international force.

"We are of the opinion that the presence of Ethiopian troops is one of the main contributing factors to the current crisis," Shirwa said.

He dded that they were calling for the removal of all Ethiopian forces from civilian populated areas "even before an international force arrives”.

The UN Security Council delegation, on a 10-day mission to Africa, met with Somali leaders in Djibouti after a briefing by Ould-Abdallah, who is chairing the talks between the TFG and the Alliance.

Djibouti is the first stop for the Security Council delegation, which is scheduled to visit Sudan, Chad, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Côte d'Ivoire.

The talks come at a time when an estimated 2.6 million Somalis need assistance. The figure is expected to reach 3.5 million by the end of the year if the humanitarian situation does not improve, according to the UN.

The fighting between Ethiopian-backed Somali forces and insurgents has forced up to one million Somalis to flee their homes, while an estimated 6,500 civilians have been killed since 2007.

ah/jm

Theme(s): (IRIN) Conflict, (IRIN) Governance

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Copyright © IRIN 2008
This material comes to you via IRIN, the humanitarian news and analysis service of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. The opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the United Nations or its Member States.
IRIN is a project of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.



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