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Somalia's Interim Leaders to Meet With Islamic Leaders Before July 15

Somalia's interim government in Baidoa says it will send a senior-level delegation to the capital Mogadishu in the coming days to meet with Islamic leaders, ahead of a second round of peace talks on July 15 in Khartoum, Sudan.

The speaker of Somalia's Transitional Federal Parliament, Sharif Hassan Sheikh Aden, tells VOA that he will lead the 15-member delegation to Mogadishu.

A departure date has not been set. But the speaker says the trip will take place because it is vital that each side knows what will be expected from the other before meeting again on July 15.

Aden says his delegation is committed to finding ways to negotiate a power-sharing agreement with the Islamic leadership in Mogadishu, so that a broad-based, permanent government can be set up in the capital without bloodshed.

The country's interim government, composed of members from two dozen major factions in Somalia, was formed 19 months ago in neighboring Kenya and is internationally recognized. But it has not had enough security to enter Mogadishu. For the past year, the government has been based in the town of Baidoa, 250 kilometers northwest of the capital.

Its authority has recently come under threat from the country's Islamic courts, whose militias seized Mogadishu from a self-styled, anti-terror alliance of factional leaders early last month.

After its initial victory, the Islamists moved swiftly to take control of other towns in southern Somalia, alarming the transitional government, Somalia's neighbors and the United States. The United States believes Muslim extremists inside the Islamic courts are harboring al-Qaida operatives, including those responsible for the 1997 U.S. embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania.

To defuse rising tensions, the Arab League, led by Sudan, succeeded in arranging a meeting between the interim government and the Islamists. On June 22nd in Khartoum, the two sides agreed to recognize each other and to meet again in July.

But soon after the agreement, the Islamic courts replaced their more moderate chairman Sheikh Sharif Ahmed with radical cleric Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys, who vowed to extend the court's authority throughout the country. Aweys said he would negotiate with the interim government, but is demanding that its constitution reflects Islamic laws called Sharia.

Former Mogadishu-based factional leader and current interim Minister of Interior, Hussein Mohammed Farah Aideed, tells VOA that he will travel to the capital, ahead of the delegation, to ask for clan elders' help in reining in the Islamists' ambitions.

"Everybody says Sharia courts control Mogadishu," he says. "That is false. The sub-clans control. When the Sharia courts said, 'We want to control Mogadishu,' the tribes sitting in Mogadishu blocked them. I know that. The control is with the tribes."

The interim government has ruled out negotiating with hardliners in the courts, but says it believes there are many moderate members, with whom it can work now and in the future.