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Top US diplomat for Africa visits Somalia - officials

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April 7, 2007 (MOGADISHU) — The top U.S. diplomat for Africa made a surprise visit to Somalia Saturday for talks with the prime minister and president, officials said.

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Jendayi Frazer is the highest-ranking U.S. diplomat to visit the country in 14 years, said Mohamoud Abdi Begos, Somalia’s deputy minister for energy and petroleum.

"She will meet the prime minister and president and is here to help with the national reconciliation of Somalia," Begos told the AP.

Frazer’s unannounced visit comes on the sixth day of a fragile cease-fire in the worst fighting in the battle-scarred capita, which has sent thousands fleeing for safety.

A local human rights group says more than 1,000 civilians have been killed or injured in four days of fighting in Mogadishu between Ethiopian-backed Somali government forces using tanks, artillery and attack helicopters against insurgents.

On Friday, a European Union conflict expert said in an e-mail obtained by The Associated Press, that Ethiopian and Somali forces may have committed war crimes during heavy artillery shelling against the Islamic insurgency in the capital and that foreign donors could be complicit.

"I need to advise you that there are strong grounds to believe that the Ethiopian government and the transitional federal government of Somalia and the African Union (peacekeeping) Force Commander, possibly also including the African Union Head of Mission and other African Union officials have through commission or omission violated the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court," the e-mail said.

The warning was made in an urgent e-mail to Eric van der Linden, the chief E.U. official for Kenya and Somalia. He confirmed the e-mail’s authenticity to the AP.

Frazer was supposed to come to Somalia in January but the trip was called off at the last minute due to security concerns. She arrived in the government stronghold of Baidoa, 250 kilometers southwest of Mogadishu.

The U.S. is a major financial supporter of the weak transitional Somali government and the peacekeepers, having pledged more than $120 million.

One Somali human rights group, which asked not to be identified for fear of retribution, said it was gathering evidence of war crimes in Somalia for submission to the International Criminal Court for possible future prosecutions.

Somali President Abdullahi Yusuf and his Cabinet ministers have repeatedly called for civilians to leave their homes because insurgents have fired mortars at Ethiopian and government troops from densely populated neighborhoods.

The U.N. refugee agency says some 124,000 people have fled Mogadishu since the beginning of February, including 11,000 in the past six days.

(AP)

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