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Ethiopian President Hopeful for Peace in Somalia

In the wake of Ethiopia's military action in Somalia to remove Islamist forces from Mogadishu, Ethiopian President Girma Woldegiorgis says he hopes a power sharing agreement in Somalia will bring wider peace to the Horn of Africa. VOA's Kane Farabaugh has more from the United Nations in New York where President Woldegiorgis spoke to VOA.

Somalia has not had a functioning government since 1991. Troops from Somalia's neighbor Ethiopia renewed hopes of restoring order to the wartorn country when they ousted Islamist forces from Mogadishu in December.

Ethiopian President Girma Woldegiorgis admits that restoring the U.N. backed interim government in Somalia is only the first step in a difficult peace process. "It's not easy after 15 years of no governance to come up and put [establish] order straight away. But we've got a wise way of involving the ex-fighters and warlords and other institutions that are important in power sharing through negotiation, and there could be peace soon. They cannot get peace unless they negotiate and agree in power sharing, and they cannot develop their country without stability and peace and they need to do that."

As President Woldegiorgis gave this interview, media reports indicated that African Union troops were arriving in the Somali town of Baidoa.

Ugandan Army spokesman Major Felix Kulaigye tells VOA that a top commander of the A.U. peacekeeping force is Ugandan. But he says despite media reports, the rest of the A.U. troops in Somalia are not Ugandan.

The A.U. peacekeeping operation calls for an 8,000-strong force. So far Uganda has offered 1,500 troops but, altogether, member countries have only pledged half of the number needed.

President Woldegiorgis says they need time, "I don't know if one could blame them. It didn't happen according to program, some incident has come in. They need time to work up the budget and get troops and so on."

Amid escalating violence in Mogadishu, A.U. representatives arrived in the capital this week for talks with the transitional federal government about the deployment of more troops.

While Ethiopia continues to play a part in the peace process, The New York Times newspaper reports that Ethiopia is also secretly collaborating with the United States. The Times says Ethiopia is assisting the U.S. military in operations to target al-Qaida operatives in the Horn of Africa -- including inside Somalia. The Ethiopian president repeated his government's position that the article is not true.

"I cannot tell you because I was not on the site. I've heard it, and that's the way it was. Ethiopia -- what has happened there could be a fabrication," says the president.

Girma Woldegiorgis finishes his six-year term as Ethiopia's president in October. After he leaves office, he plans to continue helping organizations like ORBIS International continue their efforts in Ethiopia. ORBIS is a non-profit organization dedicated to preventing avoidable blindness, which affects about one million people in Ethiopia.