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US, European Union Appeal for Return of Somali Transitional Government

The United States and European Union have issued a joint appeal for an agreement among Somali factions to allow the country's Kenya-based transitional government to set up in Mogadishu. Efforts to restore a functioning central government in the Horn-of-Africa country have stalled.

The United States and the E.U. have been working together diplomatically on Somalia, and in a joint statement Wednesday they cited an "urgent" need for an accord allowing the transitional government to move to the capital, Mogadishu.

Somalia has been without a functioning central government since 1991, when the fall of strongman leader Mohammed Siad Barre turned the country into a patchwork of fiefdoms run by warlords.

In action hailed by the international community, Somali factional leaders meeting in Nairobi last August capped two years of negotiations by setting up a federal assembly that, in turn, chose a transitional government.

However, continuing tensions among warlords and insecurity in Mogadishu have prevented the exile administration from moving its operations to the Somali capital.

In the joint statement, the United States and European Union said the Somali reconciliation process is at a "critical stage" and that a "viable" agreement on relocating the transitional government and establishing security in Mogadishu is urgently needed.

The statement said how that is to be achieved is for the Somalis to decide through their transitional institutions, though State Department Spokesman Richard Boucher said the United States and E.U. want to see reconciliation and a relocation agreement quickly:

"We have been in close consultations with the European Union in order to support the transitional federal government of Somalia," Mr. Boucher says. "We strongly support the establishment of a functioning central government in Somalia. It's time to bring the Somali people out of their long period of civil conflict, and address the international community's concerns regarding terrorism."

The joint statement welcomed as "a positive step forward" the visit to Mogadishu last week by the exile government's Prime Minister Ali Mohamed Ghedi, the first since his appointment last year.

But the visit was marred by an explosion at a Mogadishu stadium May 3rd, shortly after Mr. Ghedi had made a speech there, that reportedly killed 15 people and wounded more than 60 others.

The U.S.-E.U. statement expressed deep regret over the incident and extended condolences to families of the victims.

The security situation and funding problems have delayed deployment of an east African peacekeeping force that was to have begun last month.

Defense chiefs from IGAD, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development, adopted a plan in March to send some ten thousand troops to Somalia.

But IGAD officials say the force is intended to oversee the voluntary disarmament of Somali militias, and that there is no intention to enter the country only to have to fight the armed factions.

Somali Prime Minister Ghedi, for his part, said in Nairobi this week his government could not move until the peacekeepers were deployed.