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US Anti-Terror Campaign Could Target Sudan, Somalia - 2002-01-10

The leaders of seven East African countries are meeting in the Sudanese capital, Khartoum, to discuss ways of fighting terrorism and ending regional conflicts.

At the top of the agenda is a Sudanese proposal calling for an international conference to identify terrorism and fight it "within international legitimacy."

Terrorism is a sensitive issue for the leaders of Somalia, Sudan, Kenya, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Uganda and Djibouti. They are the seven members of the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development - or IGAD - a regional body set up in 1986 to coordinate development in the region.

The United States has accused Sudan - host of the two day summit - and Somalia of hosting or supporting terrorist groups.

There are fears that the U.S. could target the two states in the battle against international terrorism.

The U.S. has listed Sudan as one of seven state sponsors of terrorism. Osama bin Laden - the prime suspect for the terrorist acts of September 11th in New York and Washington - lived in the predominantly Muslim nation from 1991 to 1996. Numerous Islamic extremist groups had bases in Sudan in the early 1990s.

Observers speculate that Sudan may be using the Khartoum summit to try to assure the U.S. that it is no longer a haven for terrorists.

Elias Mohamed, charge d'affairs at the Sudanese Embassy in Nairobi, says his government is not concerned about U.S. allegations of terrorist connections to his country.

"I tell you, I am not worried at all about any kind of allegations because our country, we are very transparent about all these things. We have nothing to keep secret or to shield behind. We are a peace loving state, peace-loving country. I don't think this is an issue to worry about," he said.

A U.S. warning that Somalia could be targeted if President Bush broadens the war on terrorism is causing widespread nervousness across East Africa. The U.S. is conducting reconnaissance flights over Somalia to find out whether members of Mr. bin Laden's al-Qaida network are regrouping there after being routed in Afghanistan.

Somalia has not had a central government for over a decade. The U.S. believes Islamic extremists may have taken advantage of the lack of central authority to set up terrorist camps in the country.

Last month, Kenyan President Daniel arap Moi hosted reconciliation talks in Kenya with Somalia's transitional national government and some of the warlords opposed to it.

Mr. Mohamed says President Moi's findings will form a key part of the deliberations in Khartoum.

"All the presidents are going to share their views and their opinions regarding all efforts that will contribute to the stability and the integrity of Somalia. His excellency, President Moi will inform the summit about his efforts regarding the reconciliation in Somalia," Mr. Mohamed said.

Observers expect the summit to call on Somalia's transitional national government to resume dialogue with the rival factions on the need to set up an administration acceptable to all. Some question how much the Khartoum summit can achieve given that Somali's warlords are not represented.