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US Presses for Somali Political Reconciliation

The United States Tuesday urged Somalia's transitional federal government to reach out as broadly as possible to clans and other factions for the national reconciliation conference planned for mid-July. The transitional government's prime minister, Ali Mohamed Gedi, met senior State Department officials in Washington Monday. VOA's David Gollust reports from the State Department.

Officials here say they're not trying to dictate who should be invited to the planned reconciliation conference, which has already been postponed three times this year.

But they say the transitional government should cast as wide a net as possible among the country's political factions, if the conference is to achieve its objective of establishing stable governance in Somalia for the first since 1991.

The comments came after senior State Department officials held talks Monday with transitional Prime Minister Gedi, who also had meetings at the White House and with members of Congress.

Potential international donors for Somali reconstruction and others have pressed for the reconciliation conference, which the interim administration had first intended to hold in April and which is now scheduled for mid-July.

Though government officials have attributed the delays to security and funding issues, news reports from Mogadishu have blamed clan rivalries and demands by opposition factions that Ethiopian troops, who intervened in Somalia late last year, leave before the conference is held.

At a news briefing, State Department Deputy Spokesman Tom Casey avoided direct criticism of transitional authorities, but said it is important that the reconciliation process include all Somalis who are willing to participate peacefully in the building of democratic institutions:

"There should be the broadest possible discussion," he said. "Certainly individuals committed to violence, individuals not willing to work in a democratic system, are not people who we would need to, or want to, see participate because there's no point in that. But in terms of the other elements of Somali society, we do want to see the net cast as broadly as possible. That's why we've been supportive of this reconciliation conference."

Ethiopian intervention in Somalia on behalf of the United Nations-backed transitional government ousted the Islamic Courts movement, which included figures the United States accused of having ties with al-Qaida.

But recent months have seen a resurgence of attacks on government and Ethiopian troops, reportedly by remnants of the Islamic forces and militias drawn from the powerful Hawiye clan, which says it is being excluded from the political process.

A written statement from the State Department late Monday said U.S. officials expressed concern to Mr. Gedi about recent arrests in Mogadishu of prominent citizens and members of non-governmental organizations, as well as harassment of opposition figures and journalists.

It said the officials told the interim prime minister that efforts to undermine the dialogue process or the national reconciliation conference are unacceptable, and that Mr. Gedi was urged to arrange the immediate release of the detainees consistent with a general amnesty decree by interim President Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed.

Spokesman Casey also said the United States is continuing to work for the replacement of the Ethiopian troops in Somalia with those of an African Union force authorized by the U.N. Security Council last year, but he acknowledged the process has not moved forward as quickly as hoped.