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European Foreign Ministers Discuss Somalia


The International Contact Group on Somalia meets Friday in Nairobi to discuss ways to bring stability to the African nation after the volatility and violence of the past weeks. The European members of the group - Britain, Italy, Norway, Sweden and the European Union - met Wednesday in Brussels to coordinate their strategy in advance. Teri Schultz reports from Brussels.

After a two-hour meeting, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said he and his European counterparts agree that while the situation in Somalia remains serious, there may now be what he called a "small space for discussion."

The meeting follows a string of victories for Somalia's transitional government, which, with the support of Ethiopian troops, has pushed Islamic militias from the country's major cities.

Steinmeier, whose country currently holds the rotating European Union presidency, urged Somalia's transitional government to work harder toward national unity by broadening political dialogue. This, he said, must include voices from Somalia's Islamic movement, however bitter the government feels toward the radical Islamic Courts Union they have just ousted from the capital.

Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Stoere expressed a similar sentiment:

"It is a window of opportunity to take the process of national reconciliation in Somalia forward," he said. "And I believe that politically and especially from a humanitarian point of view, we have a real role to play."

But there also appears to be a role that Europe is not willing to play, that of peacekeeper.

"If there were to be an international presence, it would preferably be of African origin," said German Foreign Minister Steinmeier.

Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt said it was a lesson of history that foreign troops cannot be effective in Somalia, but he also acknowledged that the African Union is overburdened as it is, struggling to maintain a mission in Sudan.

Steinmeier said the question of a peacekeeping force is better left to the meeting of the full contact group on Friday, when the United States and Tanzania will also be present. That too is where the question of financing for a peacekeeping force will be handled.

While the Europeans told Somalia it must work for reconciliation, there was also a message for Ethiopia: Bring your troops home.

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