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US Official Holds Talks With Interim Government in Somalia

The top U.S. diplomat for Africa held talks with leaders in Somalia's transitional government Saturday to get a first-hand assessment of the situation following recent fighting between insurgents and Ethiopian-backed Somali forces. Cathy Majtenyi reports for VOA from Nairobi, she urged leaders to pursue reconciliation.

During her one-day surprise visit to the Somali town of Baidoa, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Jendayi Frazer met with President Abdullahi Yusuf and Prime Minister Ali Mohamed Gedi.

Frazer, the highest-ranking U.S. official to visit Somalia since 1994, was there to urge the transitional government to pave the way for lasting peace, and to bring the world's attention to recent violence that has wracked the country.

She shared her impressions with reporters at a news conference in the Kenyan capital. "The people need a lot of assistance. They talked about food security, they talked about clean water, rampant diarrhea. They spoke very passionately about the impact of fighting in Mogadishu. Now, the IDPs (internally displaced persons) are moving into Baidoa, adding additional burden on the local population," she said.

Frazer's visit comes six days after the signing of a truce following several days of heavy fighting between Ethiopian-backed Somali troops and insurgents and clan members in the capital, Mogadishu.

More than 380 people were killed during the four-days of violence, an estimated 1,000 wounded, and some 10,000 people fled Mogadishu during and after the fighting.

The transitional government was supposed to have convened a national reconciliation congress on April 16 to bring warring clans and others together for peace talks, but whether it will go ahead is unclear.

Frazer said she spoke to President Yusuf about the importance of holding the national reconciliation congress. "I think that he spoke very strongly about his concern that the violence (and that) the spoilers would try to prevent the congress from going forward, that it is his absolute will that there will be this dialogue amongst Somali people," she said.

Ethiopian troops came to Somalia at the end of last year to help the interim government oust the Islamic Courts Union, which had taken control over Mogadishu and much of southern Somalia.

Insurgents have been attacking the troops and Ugandan soldiers stationed in Mogadishu as part of the African Union's peacekeeping mission.

Since Somalia's civil war broke out in 1991, militias loyal to clan and sub-clan-based factions have controlled different parts of the country, with no central authority to provide law and order or basic services to the population.