June 6, 2007 (LONDON) — Somalia’s government has jeopardized talks on national reconciliation through the arrest of an opposition leader and closure of radio stations, a U.S. official said Wednesday after a London meeting of international diplomats.
U.S. Assistant Secretary for African Affairs Jendayi Frazer, who joined a meeting of the International Contact Group on Somalia, said the Somali government’s claims it would support peace talks were undermined by recent events.
Abdi Iman, a leading member of Mogadishu’s dominant Hawiye clan, was arrested Wednesday. Three radio stations have been closed by the government, which claimed the stations supported terrorism.
"The U.S. government feels these actions risk undermining national reconciliation," Frazer said.
A national reconciliation congress comprising opposing factions in Somalia is due to start on June 14, said Britain’s Lord Triesman, a legislator responsible for African affairs. He said talks should "include everybody that renounces violence."
Diplomats said in a statement after the meeting that there must be a credible political process of reconciliation in Somalia if there was to be an enduring peace.
"It’s only a political solution that in the final analysis will count," said Triesman, who hosted the meeting.
He said that if the discussions were not all-encompassing, then it was unlikely a resolution would be reached, after 15 years of violence and anarchy.
Violence in the Somali capital of Mogadishu has undermined the government’s claims to have defeated Islamic insurgents who have promised an Iraq-style guerrilla war. On Sunday, the country’s prime minister emerged unscathed after a suicide bomber drove through a roadblock guarding the his home and rammed his car into a wall, killing seven people.
Ethiopia, the region’s military powerhouse, was vital in helping the Somali government drive out Islamic radicals who ruled much of the country for six months last year. But many in predominantly Muslim Somalia resent having troops from Ethiopia, which has a large Christian population.
They have said they would leave once a replacement force could be found. But the African Union, which had been expected to provide around 8,000 troops, so far has managed to send only 1,500 Ugandans.
Triesman called on the African Union to secure the country so the reconciliation discussions could take place, adding that it would be necessary for the United Nations to bring the peacekeeping operation under its umbrella.
Frazer singled out Eritrea for supporting extremists in Somalia, but said other foreign individuals and terrorist organizations had infiltrated the country, amid fears that the country’s Islamic insurgency was being supported from overseas.
"This is too serious to be tolerant about wreckers, about spoilers," Triesman said. "We can do without anybody fighting their proxy wars on Somalian territory."