Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice met Friday with Ugandan Foreign Minister Sam Kutesa for talks focusing on the situation in Somalia. Uganda is to play a key part in an East African peacekeeping mission aimed at shoring up Somalia's embattled transitional government. VOA's David Gollust reports from the State Department.
The meeting here came amid reports of heavy clashes in southern Somalia between forces of the transitional government and Islamic militias that control most of the country.
But U.S. officials say they do not think the Islamic Courts movement is in position for an outright military victory, and that the country needs a negotiated solution along lines of the U.N. Security Council resolution on Somalia approved December 6.
That measure urged a resumption of peace talks, while relaxing the long-standing U.N. arms embargo on Somalia to allow entry of an East African "protection and training mission" to shore up the Baidoa-based interim administration.
Uganda is the only country thus far to publicly declare its readiness to take part in the eight-thousand member force, being set up by the African Union and the East African regional grouping IGAD, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development.
State Department Deputy Spokesman Tom Casey told VOA Secretary Rice thanked Foreign Minister Kutesa for his country's support for the plan and stressed the importance of fully implementing U.N. resolution.
Casey said the measure is aimed at curbing involvement by Somalia's immediate neighbors, including Ethiopia, which has backed the interim government and its rival Eritrea, which supports the Islamic Courts, and promoting peace talks involving all Somali factions:
"What's important to us is that we see things move forward in a way that leads to negotiations between the parties on the ground," he said. "We certainly don't want to see violence increase, and certainly don't want to see any of the other states in the region drawn into a broader conflict."
Officials here say they believe other IGAD countries will soon confirm their intention to join Uganda in the protection force, which they said should be in place early in the new year.
Though it has broad international recognition, the transitional government holds only the area around Baidoa. The Islamic militiamen, meanwhile, control the capital Mogadishu along with most of southern Somalia.
U.S. officials say local members of al-Qaida have influential roles in the Islamic Courts movement despite its stated rejection of terrorism.