June 20, 2006

Somali president calls for troops from AU

By Tsegaye Tadesse

ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) - Somalia's interim president arrived
in Ethiopia on Tuesday to press for African Union (AU)
peacekeepers to be sent to his country, despite resistance from
Mogadishu's new Islamist rulers.

Tension has risen since the weekend between the Islamists
and both the interim government headed by President Abdullahi
Yusuf and its Ethiopian backers.

But the interim government said on Tuesday it had appointed
a 10-man committee to talk to Islamic courts militia now
controlling a swathe of southern-central Somalia.

Diplomats say Yusuf will also meet his close ally,
Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi. He will hand the AU a
national security plan, aides said.

Potential confrontation between the Islamists and the
interim government have caused widespread international alarm
since the militia loyal to sharia courts ejected secular
warlords from Mogadishu on June 5.

Yusuf's spokesman Abdirahman Dinari said by phone from
Somalia that talks would be held after consultations with the

"They will agree on where to meet in Somalia. We are ready
for talks with the Islamic courts in order to restore stability
and peace in our country," Dinari said.

An Islamist spokesman earlier criticized the timing of
Yusuf's visit to Ethiopia.

"It's the wrong time to push for foreign forces rather than
approaching the courts to find a way of talking to them," said
Nairobi-based Abdulrahman Ali Osman.

The Islamists accuse Addis Ababa of sending 300 soldiers
across their border. Ethiopia denies the claim and the interim
government said it was intended to create a pretext to attack
its base in the southern city of Baidoa.

Islamist leaders, who seized Mogadishu from U.S.-backed
warlords after a three-month battle that killed 350 people,
have said talks with the government stand no chance unless it
drops its call for foreign troops.

Yusuf's visit came a day after the AU, Western diplomats
and the regional group IGAD agreed to send a team to Somalia to
assess the feasibility of sending peacekeepers.


Reaction to the idea of foreign troops was mixed in

"The deployment of troops in Somalia will ease the anarchy
and crisis," said businesswoman Halima Hassan.

But another resident was wary of foreign intervention,
citing a 1993 U.S. military operation that ended in
humiliation. "Troops could make matters worse like in 1993.
Whether or not they come, we can survive," Viiriye Jama said.

Foreign powers are scrambling to react to the Islamists'
surprise victory in Mogadishu. In the capital there is euphoria
at new-found peace but fears among the mainly moderate Muslim
population about the style of Islamic rule they should expect.

Despite Western fears of links between the Islamists and al
Qaeda, the Islamic courts militia are the closest thing to a
broad central authority that Somalia has had since warlords
overran the country in 1991 and carved it up into fiefdoms.

(Additional reporting by Mohamed Ali Bile in Mogadishu and
Katie Nguyen in Nairobi)