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Somalia Contact Group Discusses Security in Region

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, Jendayi Frazer, attended a meeting in Rome Monday of the International Contact Group on Somalia. Discussions focused on how to move ahead following the National Reconciliation Conference and how to improve security in the country. Sabina Castelfranco reports from Rome.

The U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, Jendayi Frazer, said the International Contact Group was positive about the efforts made by the interim Somali government following the National Reconciliation Conference, which ended August 30.

She said the Contact Group agreed on the need to help Somalia move forward so that democratic elections can be held in 2009. But for this to happen, she added, much still needs to be done including writing a constitution, doing a census of the population and establishing political parties.

Also discussed by the Contact Group was the deployment of more African Union troops to create a more secure environment and the withdrawal of Ethiopian troops that are supporting the interim government.

"We see the condition for Ethiopia's withdrawal being the replacement of them by the African Union forces and many on the Contact Group also felt the deployment of the U.N. as quickly as possible is also part of creating that environment so that a political process can go forward," said Secretary Frazer.

Only about 1,600 Ugandan troops of the promised total of 8,000. forces have been deployed in a process that appears to be moving very slowly. The United States, with the help of France, is training a contingent of 600 to 800 Burundian troops.

Frazer said the United States would be paying $5.7 million to help deploy these forces and equip them. She added that she expected the Burundian troops to be ready to be deployed by the end of October.

The U.S. official also said other countries that may also make troops available for Somalia are Nigeria and Ghana. But she stressed that the international community must understand that additional financing is needed.

"Countries are hesitant to put forward their forces because they do not have the money to sustain them when they're in Somalia," she said.

Although the U.N. refugee agency has expressed concern about the rising number of displaced people and difficult humanitarian situation, Frazer rejected the idea that Somalia was experiencing a similar situation to the one in Darfur, where more than 200,000 people have died and 2.5 million others have fled their homes.

"I think that it isn't like Darfur," said Jendayi Frazer. "I think what needs to be done is we need to put as an international community, we need to address the fact that there are still extremists and terrorists, many of them sitting in Asmara, who are undermining a process by road-side bombs, targeted assassinations of more moderates and so we've got to deal with cutting of the supply for what I would call the spoilers, the extremists and the insurgents."

Frazer points to Eritrea as one of the reasons violence in Somalia is escalating. The U.N. Security Council in July published a report saying the Eritrean government has been secretly flying huge quantities of weapons and explosives to a radical Somali Islamic youth group known as the Shabbab. But, Eritrea quickly denied the report, saying they are not supplying huge quantities of arms, including surface-to-air missiles, to Islamic insurgents in Somalia.

Frazer said called on the international community to cut off its funding to Eritrea in hopes of stopping it alleged supply of arms to the insurgents in Somalia.

"We would hope that Eritrea would get the message now that their behavior is unacceptable by all parties, meaning all parties in the international community," she said.

Frazer said the United States is considering putting Eritrea on the list of terrorism-sponsoring countries.