Somalia's neighbors are threatening sanctions against the country's feuding leaders unless they settle a political dispute that threatens to plunge the Horn of Africa nation into chaos. VOA's Peter Heinlein in Addis Ababa reports the East Africa regional group IGAD is calling on the African Union and the United Nations to follow suit.
The mood was somber as top foreign ministry officials from Uganda, Kenya, Somalia, Sudan, Ethiopia and Djibouti gathered at an Addis Ababa hotel to address an issue many say is undermining regional stability. After a brief huddle, they issued a statement expressing dismay with the failure of Somalia's transitional President Abdullahi Yusuf and Prime Minister Nur Hassan Hussein to end their squabble over cabinet posts, as they had pledged to do at an IGAD summit meeting in Nairobi last month.
The statement, read by Ethiopia's ambassador to the African Union Sahle Work Zewde, calls for tough sanctions on anyone blocking peace efforts.
"Decides with immediate effect to impose targeted sanctions, including travel bans, freezing of assets among others, against all those in and outside Somalia who have become obstacles to the achievement of peace in Somalia, and calls upon the African Union and the U.N. Security Council to do the same," she said.
The statement did not name names, but afterward Ambassador Sahle Work told reporters it should be clear that the main target is Somalia's President Yusuf, who has refused to accept the list of cabinet ministers proposed by Prime Minister Hussein.
"We can clearly see that the leadership doesn't show enough political will and between the leadership it's very clear who presented and who rejected the list," she said. "So we are not in the business of pinpointing X or Y by name, but I think that things are very clear to know who the obstacle, obstacles are in this process."
Ethiopian Foreign Minister Seyoum Mesfin bluntly warned the leaders to put aside their differences or face withdrawal of the Ethiopian troops, and possibly also the African Union peacekeeping force known as AMISOM, which are propping up Somalia's feeble transitional administration.
"I want to reiterate as unequivocally as possible. Ethiopian troops and perhaps AMISOM too are not prepared to continue paying heavy sacrifices indefinitely," he said. "The top leadership of the transitional government, the federal government of Somalia have to decide whether they commit to the Nairobi decision of IGAD heads of state and government, or that they be left alone to fight among themselves."
Somalia's Foreign Minister Ali Jama also attended the gathering. He described conditions in his country as "very grave", both in political and humanitarian terms. With an estimated 3.2 million people, 40 percent of the population in need of emergency assistance, he called on his president and prime minister to put aside their personal and clan animosities in the interests of avoiding what he called "a catastrophe."
"Enough is enough. The time has come for the leaders to reconcile, and resolve their differences with immediate effect, and implement the Nairobi declaration," he said.
One positive development at the ministerial gathering was announcement that an 800-strong battalion of Kenyan troops would join the AMISOM peacekeeping force, bringing it up to a strength of about 4,200. It was not clear when the Kenyan troops might be deployed.