January 9, 2006

US “heartened” by Somali political agreement

NAIROBI (Reuters) - The United States welcomed on Monday an
agreement by Somalia's leaders to try and end a rift in the
anarchic African nation it failed to pacify in the 1990s.

Raising hopes of an end to a feud that has paralyzed the
14th attempt to restore government in Somalia since 1991,
factions led by Somalia's president and parliament speaker
agreed last week to convene the legislature within 30 days.

If that happens, it would be a first for the fledgling
Somali government since returning home in mid-2005 after
formation in the relative security of neighboring Kenya.

"We are heartened by their commitment to turn a new page in
Somalia's political life, to respect the Somali Transitional
Federal Charter, and to convene the Parliament in regular
session within 30 days, as expressed in their joint
declaration," the U.S. State Department said.

The U.S. statement, released in Nairobi, also urged all
Somali ministers, legislators, civil society, business and
religious leaders to support the accord.

The agreement was reached at talks in Yemen between
President Abdullahi Yusuf and speaker Sharif Hassan Sheikh

The split between the president's and speaker's factions
has hindered the government's attempt to impose any authority
on the Horn of Africa nation which has been run by warlords
since the ousting of former dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in

The United States sent troops into Somalia in 1992 ahead of
a U.N. force intended to restore order and open aid channels.

But they left in 1994 after encountering tough resistance
from local warlords. That included a 1993 clash which killed 18
U.S. soldiers and was depicted in the film "Black Hawk Down."

Diplomats and analysts say that while the Yusuf-Hassan
contact in Yemen was encouraging, the proof of their agreement
will be if parliament actually meets. Fears among Somali
factions that the government may be dissolved or key figures
removed at the meeting may hamper its chances, they said.

The contentious issue of where to locate the government --
Yusuf's faction is in the provincial city of Jowhar while
Hassan's is in the capital Mogadishu -- is also unresolved.