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International Community Urged to Expand Political Space for Somali Negotiations 

Ethiopian troops withdrew from four of their bases in Mogadishu on Tuesday. Ethiopia sent them in two years ago and overturned the government run by the Islamic Courts Union, which ruled using Islamic law, or Sharia. Analysts say the move could either open the way for reconciliation among the country's armed factions or create a power vacuum that could lead to increased fighting in the capital.

Over the past few days, fighting in Mogadishu has been reported among Islamic factions, including a moderate group, the Ahlu Sunna Wal-jammaah, said by some to be supported by Ethiopia. The other is the hard-line Al Shabab, which the United States considers to be a terrorist group funded by Islamic groups in Southeast Asia.

The International Crisis Group is urging that Islamic insurgents be included in the peace negotiations backed by the international community.

Professor Ken Menkhaus of Davidson College says he agrees at least in part with ICG.

"The international community," he says, "should work to maximize political space to allow negotiation and maneuverability among the Somalis. The current effort to form a unity government, produced out of the Djibouti talks, will probably have to reach out to at least some elements of al Shabaab while marginalizing or defeating the real hard liners. To do that, we need to stop 'red-lining' [labeling] entire groups as terrorists, and instead allow some who joined Shabaab to engage in negotiations and in the process modify their positions."

He says that would include those who joined not out of jihadist conviction, but rather to support the group they thought would be most effective in combating the Ethiopian occupation.

At the end of the month, the parliament will meet to select a new president, an effort that Professor Menkhaus says is the best hope for creating a broad-based government.