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IGAD Officials Urge Somali Government to Hold Reconciliation Congress


Foreign ministers and other officials in the region attending a one-day meeting in Kenya's capital Friday reiterated their support for a reconciliation congress in Somalia to end more than a decade of civil war. Cathy Majtenyi reports for VOA from Nairobi.

Somalia's transitional government was supposed to hold a reconciliation meeting in Somalia next week to bring together elders, civil society, youth, and others to put an end to the fighting.

The meeting has been postponed until next month.

In their opening speeches at Friday's meeting in Nairobi, officials gathering for the seven-nation Inter-Governmental Authority on Development's session stressed the importance of holding that national reconciliation congress.

"The political situation offers, indeed, a unique opportunity for peace and national reconciliation, which must be seized to bring about lasting peace throughout the country," said the African Union's Commissioner for Peace and Security, Said Djinit. "We must support the transitional federal government in its efforts to lead the process of reviving Somalia from the ashes of the painful and prolonged conflict which has deeply divided the society."

The IGAD meeting comes on the heels of four days of vicious fighting in Mogadishu between March 29 and April 1 in which anywhere from 540 to 1,000 people were killed, thousands injured, and 200,00 people displaced.

The battle was between Somali government and Ethiopian troops on the one side and insurgents and clan members on the other.

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.

Although the ICU eventually was defeated, the Ethiopian troops still remained in Somalia. Insurgents have been attacking the troops and Ugandan soldiers stationed in Mogadishu as part of the African Union's peacekeeping mission.

The Ugandan soldiers number some 1,500, which is far short of the African Union's goal to have an 8,000-strong Somalia peacekeeping mission deployed in the volatile country. Nigeria, Burundi, and Ghana have expressed interest in contributing troops to the 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.

A transitional Somali parliament was formed in Kenya more than two years ago, following a regionally-led peace process.