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Somali Government 'Ready' to Negotiate With Any Opposition Group

Somalia's government says it is ready to negotiate with any opposition groups to try to resolve its conflict with Islamist insurgents.

The Somali government issued a statement Wednesday in the capital, Mogadishu, saying it is prepared to negotiate in any location, at home or abroad. The statement says members of the international community should mediate the talks.

Somali Prime Minister Nur Hassan Hussein made a similar offer of reconciliation talks last month. Leader of Somalia's Islamist movement Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed described the offer as a sign of progress.

Somali troops and their Ethiopian allies have been fighting Islamist insurgents in Somalia since driving them from power in late 2006.

Islamists and other Somali opposition groups want Ethiopian troops to withdraw before reconciliation talks begin. But the Somali government said today that any withdrawal of Ethiopian forces should be part of a negotiation process.

More than a year of fighting in Somalia has killed thousands of people in Mogadishu alone and forced a half-million others to flee the city.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP, AP and Reuters.