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UN Diplomat Urges International Attention on Somalia


The United Nation's top diplomat to Somalia is urging the international community to renew efforts to forge a political settlement to end the East African nation's longstanding political strife, violence and anarchy. VOA's Michael Bowman reports from Washington, where U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's Special Representative for Somalia spoke Monday.

Despite years of conflict and the failure of high-level meetings between warring parties to yield a lasting accord, U.N. Special Representative Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah says the international community should not abandon hope for Somalia. Even so, he concedes the situation in the country remains grim.

"The situation in Somalia, indeed, is serious. Serious because it has been at war for so long that many people probably do not understand what it means to live in peace, and this is not an exaggeration, or living with a government," he said.

More than a dozen national reconciliation conferences among warring factions from the 1990s to the present day have yet to generate a stable Somali government with standing and authority over the whole of the country. Further complicating the situation is the continuing presence of Ethiopian forces, which drove a militant Islamist movement from power in the south of the country in 2006.

But Ould-Abdallah says there are hopeful signs, as well. He argues that factional differences are more political in nature than clan-based, that Somalis have no divisions along religious or linguistic lines, and that the country's lack of effective governance has not ground the economy to a halt.

The Mauritanian-born U.N. diplomat says, when Somalia's factions meet again, he will attempt to steer them away from endless discussions of past grievances and force them to focus on their country's future.

"I am not going to go back through history, what happened in 1991, what happened in 2006. Blaming others, the past: these people are responsible, that person, that regime. And so what? What is needed now is [a focus on] what Somalis can do to help," he added.

But Somalia observers say getting the world to focus on the country is no easy task at a time when conflicts in nations like Iraq and Sudan continually grab headlines.

"Unfortunately, the world pays much to little attention to the tragic situation in Somalia, which has continued for many years. There has been no effective central government in Somalia for 17 years," said David Smock, an Africa expert at the U.S. Institute of Peace, which hosted Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah's discussion of Somalia.

But the lack of worldwide focus on Somalia may soon change. The U.N. Security Council is examining options for Somalia, including the possibility of sending a peacekeeping force to the country to take over from a small contingent of African Union troops. Last week, the U.S. Ambassador to the UN, Zalmay Khalilzad, said no decision is imminent, but that, in his words, 'a variety of options' are being examined.

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