The United States Wednesday expressed serious concern about the humanitarian situation in Somalia, where an estimated one million people have been displaced by civil warfare, mainly around the capital Mogadishu. The chief U.S. diplomat for Africa, Jendayi Frazer, says it is time for Somali moderates to come forward and work to end chronic violence. VOA's David Gollust reports from the State Department.
The relative optimism about the situation in Somalia that prevailed in Washington earlier this year has been replaced by deepening concern that civil strife is again spinning out of control.
The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees said this week an exodus of Somalis displaced by fighting in Mogadishu has rapidly accelerated, and that a million people are homeless in a crisis that is in some ways more severe than the situation in Sudan's Darfur region.
In a written statement Wednesday, the State Department urged all parties in the Somali conflict to ensure unfettered delivery of humanitarian aid to those affected, and said the United States will work with international partners and aid donors to respond to the needs of Somalis.
At the same time, it appealed for an effective cease-fire to reduce the level of violence, and it urged all Somali parties to renew dialogue and commit to a non-violent political process.
In an interview with VOA, Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Jendayi Frazer said blame for the surge in violence in Mogadishu is shared by political extremists as well as forces of the country's transitional government and the Ethiopian troops who intervened in its behalf at the end of last year.
Frazer said the United States will continue to work for full deployment of the African Union peacekeeping force for Somalia authorized by the United Nations nearly a year ago, but which is still under-subscribed.
However she said peace will not return to the country, which has been without effective central governance since 1991, until moderates from all factions come together and support peace. "It's for the Somalis themselves to come together. That is something that the U.N. Secretary-General's Special Representative Ould Abdallah (of Mauritania) said. He said where are the Somali patriots? Where are the moderate voices within Somalia, to isolate the extremists and have a legitimate opposition. Either join the transitional federal government, or be in opposition to it. But do it through a political process. That's the key," she said.
Frazer said for the increasingly-unpopular Ethiopian troops to withdraw, the full 8,000-member A.U. peace force needs to deploy.
At present only 1,600 Ugandan troops are in place. But the chief U.S. Africa diplomat said the United States is training Burundian troops for duty in Somalia and pressing other countries, including Nigeria and Ghana to take part, while remaining ready to provide logistical support.
In the interview, Frazer accused neighboring Eritrea of supporting Somali extremists and giving haven to radicals who fled the country after Ethiopia intervened, and said the Bush administration continues to consider putting Eritrea on its list of state sponsors of terrorism.
She also reiterated U.S. calls on Eritrea and Ethiopia for restraint in their border dispute, as a deadline for delineating the boundary under a U.N. settlement plan approaches.
"We have seen the deployment of forces along the border between Eritrea and Ethiopia and that creates tremendous concern about miscalculation. But I think it's neither in the interest of Ethiopia or Eritrea to go back to war. So the main concern is that we clearly state that they need to resolve their problems, particularly on that border, through diplomacy, through the U.N. process that's under way," she said.
Frazer said the U.N. plan requires concessions by both parties and said the United States does not take sides in the border issue despite strained relations with the Asmara government.
The Algiers accord in 2000 that ended a two-year war between Ethiopia and Eritrea set up a demilitarized zone and a commission to adjudicate the boundary. The U.N. panel is completing its work without achieving a mutually acceptable settlement, and a disputed previous border plan is to take affect late this month.