The United States’ new envoy for Somalia, Ambassador John Yates, speaking to VOA by telephone from Nairobi, says that since the heavy fighting of three weeks ago has subsided, the biggest challenge is to make progress toward holding a reconciliation conference.
"I think that what one could say now," he said, "is that we would like very much to see the cessation of hostilities that has been going on now for three weeks to be formalized into a more durable ceasefire, actually. And then the big challenge is to have an independent and successful reconciliation congress."
Ambassador Yates says he is urging that negotiations continue so that a fair and independent reconciliation congress can take place that will map out the way to a new constitution and elections by 2009.
"We are trying to encourage the Hawiyes in Mogadishu and to push, to push -- I’ll use that word -- the Transitional Government, specifically Abdulahi Yusuf, to continue the political dialogue that they have begun, and we hope that they can reach some sort of rapprochement that will permit a fit, fair and independent reconciliation congress," he continued.
Asked whether Somaliland, which has declared itself independent of Somalia, would participate in the congress, Ambassador Yates said it was unlikely, based on discussions he had last week with the foreign minister of Somaliland. However, he said some Somalilanders may participate through the clan-based selection of delegates.
Speaking about the thousands of refugees that fled the fighting in Mogadishu and are now without shelter and other basic necessities, Ambassador Yates said he hopes a permanent ceasefire will allow people to return to their homes and in the meantime, the United States is urging the Transitional Federal Government to open up all the airports and to permit all food items to flow to the internally displaced persons.