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Somali Prime Minister Pledges to Broaden Base

Somalia's newly-named prime minister has pledged to reach out to rival groups as he fills vacant cabinet posts in his government. He made the comment after U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice cautioned that he must broaden the base of support within his administration in the interests of peace. VOA's Peter Heinlein reports from the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, where the secretary and the prime minister met to discuss Somalia's future.

Days after Somali Prime Minister Nur Hassan Hussein named a cabinet that excluded several ministers in his predecessor's government, Secretary Rice urged him to be more inclusive. Before chairing a meeting of interested parties on Somalia in Addis Ababa Wednesday, Rice said she would stress to Hussein the importance of broadening the political basis for reconciliation.

"I'm looking forward to meeting the prime minister of Somalia to encourage the broadest possible engagement with forces that are not associated with terrorism but might be part of a political solution for the Somali people. There needs to be a broad basis across lines in Somalia, so that is extremely important, and I will discuss that with the prime minister," she said.

In a statement issued after the meeting, Rice said she encouraged the Somali prime minister to develop a timeline by next month for completing the transitional process, including drafting a new constitution and electoral law.

Speaking to a few reporters after the meeting, Prime Minister Hussein said the 73-member cabinet he named this week was a first step in creating a broadly-based government. He said he would try to respond to U.S. criticisms by including a broad cross-section of people in his cabinet, possibly even Somalis living in exile in Asmara, the capital of Eritrea, a country that has been accused of fueling clan rivalries in Somalia.

"Our cabinet will be a very transparent cabinet. When it comes to the people of Asmara, they are welcome. Because we are determined to make the outreach, to reach everybody, every opposition. We recognize the right of every Somali to be consulted and to be considered," he said.

Secretary Rice said she is pushing more African countries to send peacekeepers to Somalia. She noted that Uganda already has 1,800 soldiers serving in an African Union peacekeeping mission. Burundi has promised to send an additional number of troops. But many African countries are reluctant, pointing to the tragic results of previous peacekeeping efforts.

Rice said she is pursuing with world leaders the idea of organizing a robust peace force that could replace the Ethiopian troops who went to Somalia a year ago to back government forces.

"We do believe that peacekeeping efforts need to take place in Somalia. We appreciate very much the Ugandan forces that are there. They frankly need to be joined soon by other forces. We look forward to the deployment of Burundi's forces. I spoke to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon just before I left Washington, and we talked about the need to try to get this peacekeeping force in place," she said.

Secretary-General Ban's special representative for Somalia Ahmedou Ould Abdallah also attended the Addis Ababa meeting. He tells VOA he was encouraged by the high-level U.S. involvement and attention to Somalia.

"I think it is very significant specially she has shared and participated in this meeting in Soamlia, where it has been accepted that the situation is reall a serious threat," he said.

During her 24-hour stop in Africa, Rice also met the presidents of Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi, along with the interior minister of the Democratic Republic of Congo to discuss how to halt the fighting in eastern Congo that threatens stability throughout the African Great Lakes region.

She also held talks with Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi. A statement issued after that meeting said the discussions focused on Ethiopia's relations with neighboring Sudan, Eritrea and Somalia.