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Ethiopian President Hopeful for Stable Somalia

Ethiopia's president has voiced optimism about the prospects for a power-sharing agreement in Somalia that could lead to long-term stability in the Horn of Africa. VOA's Peter Heinlein spoke with President Girma Wolde-Giorgis during the Ethiopian leader's visit to United Nations headquarters in New York.

Mr. Wolde-Giorgis says Ethiopia's military offensive into Somalia in December has advanced the cause of regional peace. Despite a surge of violence in Mogadishu, the Ethiopian president says the ouster of Islamist forces from the Somali capital has made possible the formation of a unity government after 15 years of clan warfare.

"It's not easy after 15 years of no governance to come up and put [establish] order straight away," he said. "But we've got a wise way of involving the ex-fighters and warlords and other institutions that are important in power sharing through negotiation, and there could be peace soon. They cannot get peace unless they negotiate and agree in power sharing, and they cannot develop their country without stability and peace and they need to do that."

Mr. Wolde-Giorgis reaffirmed that enough Ethiopian troops will remain in Somalia to maintain order until African Union peacekeepers arrive. The first contingent of about 30 Ugandan troops is reported to have landed in the Somali town of Baidoa Thursday.

The force is eventually expected to number 8,000, but AU officials have said they have received pledges of only half that many troops to man the force.

President Wolde-Giorgis told VOA he is confident the lack of troop contributions is only a temporary setback.

"I don't know if one could blame them. It didn't happen according to program, some incident has come in. They need time to work up the budget and get troops and so on," he added.

Mr. Wolde-Giorgis was at the United Nations to speak at a 25th anniversary tribute to Orbis International, a non-profit organization dedicated to preventing avoidable blindness. Assisted by British philanthropist Richard Branson and his Virgin airlines, Orbis operates flying eye hospitals that have brought vision to hundreds of thousands of blind people in 85 countries.

Ethiopia is among the main destinations for the flying eye hospitals, and President Wolde-Giorgis has been working for the past decade to promote the Orbis campaign in his country.

The World Health Organization estimates that of the 37 million people around the world who are blind, 28 million need not be. In Ethiopia, one of the world's poorest countries, an estimated 1 million people are blind and more than ten million others suffer from curable eye diseases.