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US Concerned Somalia Conflict Could Spread


The United States Thursday voiced concern over the danger of a wider conflict in the Horn of Africa region after the breakdown of Somalia peace talks. The State Department is warning Americans in the region about a threat of Somalia-related terrorism.

The U.S. State Department says it is doing everything it can to see that the simmering Somali conflict does not spread beyond that country's borders, and it is appealing to Somalia's neighbors to avoid aggravating the situation.

The appeal came in response to the collapse Wednesday of peace talks between Somalia's interim government and Islamist movement, which has raised fears of more intense fighting in that country and the possibility that open warfare could draw in neighboring Ethiopia and Eritrea.

Ethiopia has sent troops to support the struggling transitional Somali government based in Baidoa, while Eritrea has been accused by the United States and others of arming the Islamic Courts movement, which controls most of the country, including the capital Mogadishu.

At a news briefing, State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack lamented the breakdown of the Arab League-sponsored peace talks in Khartoum and said the Islamists should drop pre-conditions and return to the bargaining table. "We believe that the most hopeful course forward begins with the Transitional Federal Institutions and the Islamic Courts coming together. We don't believe that the Islamic Courts are a monolithic institution. There are a variety of different factions with the Islamic Courts that are vying to control what path the Islamic Courts will take. So we are trying to encourage a political discussion, as opposed to the ways that disputes in Somalia have been, for the past two decades resolved, via the use of violence. We would advocate resolving any differences through negotiations, coming together around the table," he said.

Without mentioning Ethiopia or Eritrea by name, Spokesman McCormack called on Somalia' neighbors to play a positive role in that country and not use the situation to further destabilize the area.

The spokesman confirmed that the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Ethiopia had issued so-called warden messages to American citizens living in or visiting those countries warning them of possible terrorist attacks by extremists from Somalia.

McCormack said such advisories are issued when there is specific information about the possibility of attacks, but he provided no details.

The warden messages said the threats mention the use of suicide bombings against prominent landmarks in Kenya and Ethiopia, and that the danger extends to other surrounding countries as well.

McCormack said the United States has long been concerned about the presence of terrorist groups in Somalia.

Though he was not specific, U.S. officials have said that some figures with al-Qaida connections had been present in Mogadishu when the Islamic Courts took over the capital in June.

The Islamic movement said at the time it did not want to be seen as an enemy of the United States and had no intention of helping terrorists.