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US Decries Meddling in Somalia, Urges Dialogue

The United States Wednesday urged Somalia's neighbors to avoid actions that would complicate efforts to create a functioning government there. The appeal followed news reports that Eritrea and Ethiopia may be backing rival factions in the war-ravaged country.

The Bush administration is again urging the main parties in the Somalia conflict to commit to dialogue for a unity government, and it is calling on Somalia's neighbors to avoid any actions that might complicate those efforts.

The U.S. appeal followed reports Wednesday that a Kazakh cargo plane carrying arms from Eritrea for Islamic militants had arrived in the Somali capital Mogadishu, and news accounts last week that Ethiopia had sent troops to shore up the country's transitional government based in Baidoa.

Both Eritrea and Ethiopia have denied intervening in the long-running Somali conflict and officials here say they cannot verify the news reports.

However, the State Department is taking the accounts seriously. At a news briefing, State Department Deputy Spokesman Tom Casey said it is important that Somalia's neighbors avoid any actions that would make the political reconciliation process in Somalia more difficult than it already is.

"We certainly don't want to see, whether it's Eritrea, or Ethiopia, or Kazakhstan, or any other country, engage or get involved in efforts to support any violence in that country," he said. "Again, Somalia's problems over the years have been caused by a resort to arms, and a resort to violence. We need to get away from that, in order to be able to create and establish a government that functions, a government that works, and a government that can serve the Somali people.

Spokesman Casey reiterated a U.S. appeal Tuesday for the country's now-dominant Islamic Courts Union militia movement and the U.N.-backed transitional government in Baidoa to recommit to dialogue and work together to establish a functioning government for Somalia, which has been lacking for more than a decade.

That statement called on all Somali parties to cease hostile actions, avoid inflammatory rhetoric and accusations, and recommit to peace through dialogue under a seven-point framework adopted by the sides in Khartoum June 22.

Somalia's long-running civil conflict took a new turn in early June when the Islamic Courts Union seized Mogadishu and routed a coalition of warlords.

The United States acknowledged having supported factions opposing the Islamic militiamen, citing concerns they might give safe haven to al-Qaida terrorists known to be in the country.

After it seized Mogadishu, the Islamic Courts Union denied any intention to foster terrorism and said it wanted dialogue with the United States and other major powers.

The United States and several other countries formed a contact group on Somalia, which met in New York June 15, endorsing the transitional institutions as a framework for a new government and appealing for humanitarian aid.

The Bush administration has since been urging the Baidoa-based authorities and the Islamists to resume talks that led to the Khartoum agreement, which provides for mutual recognition and peace talks without preconditions.