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African Leaders Discuss Somalia, Darfur


On the last day of the African Union summit in The Gambia, the continent's leaders are discussing what has been the chief theme of the conference: security, and how to stem continuing violence in Somalia and Sudan's Darfur region.

The leaders are expected to press Sudan to accept U.N. peacekeepers to succeed an African Union force, which plans to withdraw in September. The leaders are also considering deploying regional peacekeepers to Somalia.

Both proposals face considerable obstacles. Sudan has, so far, been bitterly opposed to a U.N. force on its soil. Islamic authorities, who control the Somali capital, Mogadishu, have said they oppose deployment of peacekeepers. And funding for the Somalia mission is still being secured.

But the foreign minister of Somalia's U.N.-backed transitional government, Abdullahi Sheikh Ismael, told VOA, the situation in Somalia could get much worse.

"The security situation in Somalia has worsened, and it could lead to a further upsurge in violence and more unnecessary bloodshed. That possibility of a generalized conflict is still there, which could threaten the fragile peace in Somalia, and could result in a spillover threatening the security of our neighbors," he said/

Islamic courts that control much of southern Somalia are claiming authority over the entire country. And, Somalia's transitional government wields little power outside its temporary headquarters in Baidoa.

A decision on sending African peacekeeping troops into the Horn of Africa nation, which has been without an effective central government for 15 years, is one of the key items on the summit's agenda.

Ismael says he is confident a decision in favor of a troop deployment will come soon.

"What we expect is a reconfirmation of the line, which has been adopted since a long time, and, specifically, for undertaking the deployment plan of a force in Somalia to help the government stabilize the country," he continued. "All the signs are there today, leading us towards a culminating point for the adoption of an approval program."

A new recording attributed to al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden, warns the international community to stay out of Somalia.

However, Somali Foreign Minister Ismael says Africa and the world must listen to the transitional government of Somalia.

"It's very simple. We are acting within the framework of the institutions. Outside the institutional framework, you can have a number of voices," noted Ismael. "But the institutional frameworks have decided. The government has decided. The parliament has approved. And it has been done."

The summit's agenda also includes talks on health and migration issues, and the development of regional economic communities.

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