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Analyst Sees Chance for Peace Dialogue in Somalia

More than a year after Ethiopian troops invaded Somalia and toppled the Islamic Courts Union, a political settlement and peace still have not been achieved. And hundreds of thousands of people have been displaced and are in need of emergency assistance.

Independent analyst Matthew Bryden is following developments in Somalia. From Nairobi, he told VOA English to Africa service reporter Joe De Capua that although the humanitarian situation is bleak, he does see some encouraging signs on the political front.

“I think there have been some positive developments. I would agree that from the humanitarian perspective, we do see the situation deteriorating. More than a year of very intense conflict between Ethiopian forces and the government and insurgents has taken its toll; and there are problems of drought and poor crops in many parts of the country that create a humanitarian crisis, and that’s getting worse. But I think on the political side we see an opening. There is a new cabinet, a new prime minister, and we’ve seen very tentative moves or indications that both sides might be prepared to engage in dialogue. And the first tentative steps in several years toward some kind of political accommodation could stabilize the country and take things in a new and positive direction,” he says.

But can that happen while Ethiopian troops are still in Somalia? Bryden says, “That is a key demand of the opposition based in Eritrea and their allies on the ground inside Somalia. They would like to see Ethiopian forces withdraw before any dialogue. But I think realistically they recognize that they’re not going to wake up one morning and find that Ethiopian troops have left (and that) Ethiopia and the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) would also like some guarantees that the withdrawal of Ethiopian troops would be followed by a stable situation with an agreed security arrangement on the ground. And so, there would have to be some kind of discussion about what kind of security arrangements would follow an Ethiopian withdrawal, what the phases of an Ethiopian withdrawal would be and whether or not some international force would be required to supervise and monitor the withdrawal and its aftermath,” he says.

Bryden says that the current small AU force in Somalia is not really a peacekeeping force since there is no peace to keep. He says it’s also seen by many as simply a protector of the TFG. Discussion of a UN force is underway.

As for the clans agreeing to such a dialogue, the analyst says he believes they would. “I think the issue right now is no longer one of clan. In some ways the situation in Somalia is simpler than it’s been in a number of years. We do have two large political blocks…. There are groups who are not represented in either of these two camps, who would eventually need to be brought into a dialogue. The issues I think are twofold. There’s a set of issues that relate to power sharing – that is, to broaden the Transitional Federal Government and its institutions and to ensure that all groups are equitably represented – and a second set of issues that relate to the completion of the transition. The transitional government is just that, an interim authority with a very finite mandate to establish a new constitution and to hold a referendum and elections. And time is running out on that mandate,” he says.