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Scheduled Talks Between Somali Government, Islamists Uncertain


Delegations from Somalia's transitional government and the Islamic Courts Union are in Sudan's capital Khartoum for scheduled peace talks, but both sides are complaining about procedures and events leading up to the negotiations. The complaints make it questionable whether the talks will be held.

The talks are meant to finalize an interim peace accord that the two sides signed last month that, among other things, calls for the creation of a joint national army and police force.

The negotiations are to be co-chaired by the Arab League and Kenya, which holds the presidency of the regional body Inter-Governmental Authority on Development.

But the transitional Somali government and the Islamic Courts Union say they have serious problems with the way the talks are to be conducted.

National Union of Somali Journalists Secretary General Omar Faruk Osman has been following events leading up to the talks and describes to VOA some of the stumbling blocks.

"The Islamic Courts do not see Kenya as a neutral country or (as) leading IGAD, they do not see IGAD as a neutral body about the talks in Khartoum," he said. " At the same time, the transitional government does not see the Arab League as a neutral mediator. So there are doubts there. But Arab League officials in the talks are making their efforts to convince the Islamic Courts to go to the talks despite the co-chairing of the Kenyan delegation."

Chief among the complaints against the Kenyan government and the regional body IGAD is their endorsement of a peacekeeping force that would send soldiers from the region into Somalia to bring security to the volatile country.

The Islamic Courts Union vehemently opposes the presence of foreign peacekeepers in Somalia, especially those from neighboring Ethiopia.

Ibrahim Addou is in charge of the Islamic courts' foreign affairs. In a previous interview with VOA, he describes the courts' opposition to, what they charge, is the presence of Ethiopian troops in Somalia.

"Ethiopia is just trying to do everything possible to create instability in Somalia.," he said. "As you know, Ethiopia is a land-locked country. So, Ethiopia is desperately trying to conquer Somalia by force to use its ports. And so, we have decided to defend our country."

After much denial of the presence of Ethiopian troops in Somalia, the Ethiopian government recently admitted the existence of a small number of troops, but only acting in a training capacity. Eyewitnesses and others maintain that Ethiopian soldiers are fighting alongside their Somali counterparts.

The French news agency, AFP, quotes Addou as saying Sunday that the Islamic Courts Union will refuse to speak with the transitional Somali government unless all Ethiopian troops are out of Somalia.

Added to the confusion is a fight within the Somali government between the parliamentary speaker and the president over who would represent the Somali government, which may affect the talks' success.

"The international community is worried about the decision from the speaker of the parliament, who said, 'I am not going to attend the talks in Khartoum,'" Journalist Osman explained. "There are a number of parliamentarians supporting the speaker of the parliament - any outcome that comes from Khartoum, which the transitional government reached with the Islamic courts, needs to be presented to the parliament to endorse," he said. "The alliance of parliamentarians led by the speaker of the parliament may oppose the outcome."

The Islamic Courts Union started its expansion in June, by taking control of the capital Mogadishu. It has since captured much of southern Somalia.

Since civil war broke out in 1991, militias loyal to clan and sub-clan-based factions have controlled different parts of the country, with no central authority to provide law and order and even basic services to the population.

A transitional Somali parliament was formed in Kenya more than a year ago following a peace process.

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