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Arab League Hosts Somali Peace Talks in Sudan

Somalia's transitional government and the Union of Islamic Courts met with officials of the Arab League and the Sudanese government in a bid to arrange peace talks. The Somali government and the Islamic Courts then had face-to-face talks.

Sudanese president Omar el-Bashir, who is the chairman of the Arab League, and Arab League secretary-general Amr Moussa were among mediators who first met separately with delegations from the Union of Islamic Courts and the Somali transitional government based in the town of Baidoa.

The two sides met directly later in the day. Discussion items reportedly included a cease-fire and power sharing.

Professor Iqbal Jhazbhay is an expert on the Horn of Africa at the University of South Africa. He tells VOA the talks are a good sign.

"It is clear that any attempt to reduce tensions between the major and minority players in Somalia should be welcome," he said. "That would at least get some of the hopeful dialogue discussions going provided both sides - the TFG (Somali government) and the Islamic courts - are very realistic".

More than 350 people were killed and more than a thousand wounded during fighting that took place during the past few months between militias loyal to the Union of Islamic Courts and militias and warlords of the Alliance for the Restoration of Peace and Counter-Terrorism.

Some alliance warlords were also government members. In early June, Somali Prime Minister Ali Mohamed Gedi fired national Security Minister Mohamed Qanyare and three other ministers - Musa Sudi Yalahow, Issa Botan Alin, and Omar Muhamoud Finnish - for their involvement in the Mogadishu fighting.

Early this month, the Union of Islamic Courts took control of the capital Mogadishu and then Jowhar, a town that was once the temporary capital of Somalia's transitional government.

Much of southern Somalia appears to be under the control of the Islamic Courts. It is not clear whether the group will work with the fledgling transitional government or set up an administration that would rival the government.

One serious bone of contention between the two is the issue of foreign peacekeepers. The government recently approved a regional peacekeeping force to restore law and order to the country, a move the Islamic courts vehemently opposes.

Horn of Africa expert Jhazbhay says he thinks negotiations between the two will be successful if the government, or TFG, acknowledges the presence and influence of the Islamic Courts.

"The TFG has to understand it is not the only player in town, not the only show in town," he said. "The huge, public popular support at the moment is for the Islamic Courts. So, if it [the government] approaches it with that frame in mind, one, to come to an understanding to work together in extending law and order within the towns and cities and villages of Somalia, and then develop a forward process on developing institutions [then the process will move forward]. But if the assumption is that the TFG is the prime player and the only player, I cannot see much of these talks going anyway forward."

Since civil war broke out in 1991, warlords and their militias have battled with each other and civilians to control different parts of the country. A transitional Somali parliament was formed in Kenya more than a year ago following a two-year peace process.