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Experts Say Peace in Somalia Possible

Now that the Islamic fundamentalist movement that controlled most of Somalia has been defeated, does this African nation have another chance to end nearly two decades of chaos and build a viable state? VOA's Margaret Besheer reports from Washington that some experts believe a brief window of opportunity is open now for success in Somalia.

Violence continues to flare in Somalia, even after the militia known as the Islamic Courts was routed by Ethiopian and Somali troops in December.

The transitional federal government - or TFG - formed in 2004 with U.N. help in hopes of restoring order continues to struggle to assert its authority over the country's clans, warlords and Islamic groups.

But former U.S. deputy secretary of state for Africa, Vicki Huddleston, told a Council on Foreign Relations gathering this week in Washington that she believes the defeat of the Islamic Courts has given Somalia a second chance to get things right, but it must happen soon.

"You have to help the state build governance," she said. "You have to help, for example, the TFG and push the TFG to be more inclusive, to reach out to all the clans, so the clans are represented as seen in agreement, but by people and by leaders that are acceptable to all the clans."

Terrence Lyons, a professor at George Mason University in Virginia, agrees swift action is necessary because the security situation is eroding and will likely continue to deteriorate if there is not a broad-based and inclusive political process.

"If the TFG can reach out and form a kind of inclusive government that brought in some new members, new political constituencies from Mogadishu, from the Hawiye [clan], from the Islamic Courts - I would argue, the moderate elements of the Islamic Courts - then there is the possibility that that government could hold together and represent a new beginning for Somalia," he said.

Ambassador Huddleston urged the United States to take the lead in bringing together the international community in a concerted and sustained effort to rebuild Somalia as a viable state. She says strong U.S. leadership will prevent Somalia - and other countries in Africa - from becoming havens for al-Qaida.

"The only way Africa will become safe from terrorism is if we are working across the board for development and for stability," she said.

Huddleston believes the impending arrival of African Union peacekeepers will help to calm the situation, dampening the boldness of Islamist radicals and allowing Ethiopia to withdraw its forces.