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Analyst Favors Small Private Talks Over Large Somali Reconciliation Conference

The head of the AU Commission – Alpha Omar Konare – is quoted as saying it would be a “catastrophe” if Ethiopian troops left Somalia before African Union peacekeepers were fully deployed. However, he says if Ethiopia attempts to reinforce its presence and remain, it could block political dialogue.

Currently, there are only about 1500 au peacekeepers in Somalia. All from Uganda and far short of the goal of 8-thousand AU soldiers.

Professor David Shinn of George Washington University is a former US ambassador to Ethiopia. He spoke to VOA English to Africa Service reporter Joe De Capua about achieving a lasting peace in Somalia.

“I’ve consistently argued since the beginning of the year that what is needed is a political settlement and power sharing with key sub-clans leaders, business persons, moderate members of the Islamic Courts (Union), particularly those living in the greater Mogadishu area. And I’ve also argued that neither unpopular Ethiopian forces nor an inadequately equipped African Union force of some 8,000 is the solution unless you have a political settlement first. And only the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) can make the political settlement happen. Once that occurs, then I think an AU force can make a positive contribution. But not before.” he says.

Ambassador Shinn rejects the idea of a very large and unwieldy reconciliation conference for Somalia in favor of private discussions with key people along with a power sharing arrangement.

What if Ethiopia withdrew its troops before a full AU force was present? Ambassador Shinn says, “It might over the short term be a little messy. Certainly the small Ugandan force that is there would not be able to cope with any up tick in violence if that happened. On the other hand, if the TFG, prior to the Ethiopian pullout, took some of the initial steps to show good faith in its effort to share real power with some of these other forces that oppose them, that might be enough to prevent violence or at least significant violence from breaking out.

“The problem is you do have a small core of spoilers in Mogadishu, who are not going to be helpful under any circumstance. These are the handful of Jihadis, who are still hanging around, some of the real radicals with the Islamic Courts. I think there numbers are small, but they will do everything possible to disrupt any kind of solution. And you’ve got to have someone who can deal with them. If their collaboration with some of the more moderate groups can be undercut, politically, I think it’s possible for just the TFG militia to deal with them because their numbers aren’t great enough.”