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UN Security Council Delegation Meets Somali Parties


A U.N. Security Council delegation is in Djibouti to help push players in the Somali peace process closer to reconciliation and end the violence that has plagued that country for nearly two decades. VOA's Margaret Besheer is traveling with the Security Council and files this report from Djibouti.

The Security Council arrived in Djibouti Monday, where Somali parties have gathered for a second round of U.N.-mediated talks. The first round ended May 16, but the parties did not engage in direct discussions.

Council members are not in Djibouti to negotiate with the rival parties. They say they hope their presence will encourage the Transitional Federal Government and opposition groups of the Alliance for the Re-liberation of Somalia, also known as ARS, to engage one another directly, and move closer toward peace and reconciliation.

The U.N. Secretary-General's special representative, Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, who is mediating the Djibouti talks, told VOA on the margins of the meeting, that, after years of violence, two rounds of talks would not solve Somalia's problems, but it is an important start.

"I would like to say that a country as divided, as fractured as Somalia, especially after 18 years of war, one, two meetings will not solve its problems," he said. "But it's very important to start somewhere, and to start to work -- reconstruction, reconciliation, but above all a minimum (of) stability."

Several participants in Monday's meetings said the absence of some powerful opposition groups would not hurt the talks. Somalia's deputy prime minister, Ahmed Abdisalam Aden, who is leading the talks with the opposition, agreed with that assessment.

"I'm very much assured, and I believe that, when the Somali government and the ARS group who are here, agree on a cessation of hostilities, that we can influence and have an impact on the ground," he said. "The Somali conflict has been going on for a long time, so it is expected a few groups won't want to be part of the process."

But remarks from opposition group ARS's vice chairman, Abdulrahman Abdishakur Warsame, indicated that bringing his group and the government together could also take time.

He said ARS would not have face-to-face talks with the transitional federal government until there is a timetable for the withdrawal of Ethiopian troops from Somalia. Those troops came at the invitation of the Somalia government in late 2006 to help quash an Islamist insurgency.

"We said the Ethiopian presence - Ethiopian occupation - in Somalia as the main obstacle for peace. Unless that obstacle is addressed, we cannot have a face-to-face discussion," he said.

But, he said, if that is addressed during this week's talks, then his group would sit down with the government.

The U.N. Security Council has been very engaged on the Somali issue. Last month, it unanimously adopted a resolution to expand the U.N.'s political presence inside Somalia, and signaled its potential willingness to send U.N. peacekeepers to the country, which has been wracked with violence since the military regime collapsed in 1991.

The council is also about to adopt a resolution authorizing countries with permission from the Somali transitional federal government to pursue pirates inside their territorial waters, where more than 25 ships have been hijacked this year. Diplomats say the resolution is likely to be voted on Monday by their council colleagues in New York.

The Security Council delegation had originally hoped to go to Somalia for meetings with the parties, but security concerns prevented them from traveling there. The volatile situation was highlighted Sunday, when insurgents shot at Somali President Abdullahi Yusuf's plane as he departed Mogadishu for the talks.

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