- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 6, 2006


The government ruled out peace talks with the country’s powerful Islamic movement on Tuesday and warned that an all-out conflict may be “inevitable.”

Three days after the Islamists seized Dinsoor township, about 170 miles west of Mogadishu, the capital, the government said it would not attend the next round of talks in the Sudanese capital, Khartoum, aimed at averting a full-scale war.

“This group is expanding its territory by force and violating the truce agreement. There is no point for peace talks if it cannot respect what it has already signed,” Information Minister Ali Jama told Agence France-Presse.

“For talks to continue, there must be a conducive environment, and since that is not there at the moment, we are not ready for talks,” he added.

And on a visit to his chief ally, Ethiopia, Somali Prime Minister Ali Mohammed Gedi told reporters that continued belligerence from the Islamists would lead to war, but he stressed that government forces are ready for the fight.

“The [transitional federal government] has trained its forces … Now they are ready, and we have confidence we can protect our government and our people against terrorists.

“If terrorists and the so-called ‘Union of Islamic Courts’ don’t stop their invasion and aggression, war is inevitable,” Mr. Gedi said.

Francois Fall, the U.N. special envoy for Somalia, has suggested Arab League-mediated talks resume Dec. 15, but Mr. Jama, the information minister, said this would be a “waste of time.”

The new position is a setback to efforts by Mr. Fall, who held talks on Monday with Sheik Hassan Dahir Aweys, the Islamists’ supreme leader, seeking to save the peace talks.

The Islamic movement, which holds sway in much of south and central Somalia, has also rejected the talks until Ethiopian troops deployed in Somalia to protect the transitional administration are withdrawn.

Previous rounds of talks yielded truce and mutual-recognition pacts, both of which have been violated.

Witnesses said Islamic fighters and government forces, backed by Ethiopian soldiers, have continued deploying in several locations, preparing for all-out war that Somalia watchers warn could engulf the entire Horn of Africa region.

Ethiopia denies deploying thousands of troops across the border, but admits sending military advisers and trainers to aid the Somali government threatened by the rapid expansion of the Islamists.

Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi has announced completion of war preparations and secured parliamentary approval to defend Ethiopia from the Islamist threat.

Mr. Meles says the Islamists are collaborating with archfoe Eritrea and Ethiopian rebel groups to destabilize mainly Christian Ethiopia, which has a large, potentially restive Muslim minority.

Alarmed by a potential regional conflict, the seven-nation Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) has pushed for a withdrawal of foreign forces from Somalia.

In a meeting with the Islamists in Djibouti over the weekend, IGAD expressed its “desire to realize peace and stability in Somalia through a negotiated political settlement.”

In addition, the U.N. Security Council plans to decide on a U.S.-drafted resolution to ease the 1992 arms embargo on Somalia and approve the deployment of African peacekeepers.

While the government has lobbied the United Nations to hasten its decision, the Islamists, accused of links to Osama bin Laden’s al Qaeda, have rejected the call, with a radical wing of clerics saying it will initiate attacks.

Somalia has lacked an effective government since the 1991 ouster of dictator Mohammed Siad Barre, and a two-year-old government has failed to exert control across the nation of about 10 million people.

Years of conflict in Somalia have worsened the effects of current flooding that has killed at least 120 persons and affected about a million others, displacing 300,000 of them.

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