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Monitors Needed On Ethiopia-Somalia Border - Envoy
The Islamists who have seized power across much of Somalia's south since taking Mogadishu in June declared holy war on Monday against Ethiopia, which it accuses of invading the country to prop up the interim government.
The call for jihad came hours after government fighters that residents said were accompanied by Ethiopian soldiers took the Islamist outpost of Buur Hakaba for a few hours before leaving.
Buur Hakaba is 30 km (20 miles) from the government's base in Baidoa, the only real area it controls.
"I think the monitors can be a solution to the Somalia-Ethiopian crisis," said Mario Raffaelli, Italy's special envoy to its former colony Somalia. "But of course both of them have to agree."
In an interview late on Monday in Mogadishu, Raffaelli said the monitors did not need to be armed but had to be independent.
"The monitoring force will not be an aggressive force. They can be from a neutral country," he said.
The monitors could be drawn from the member countries of three diplomatic bodies that have a hand in the Somali peace process -- the Arab League, east Africa's Inter-governmental Authority on Development or the U.S.-backed International Contact Group on Somalia.
If monitors were in place, propaganda would be easier to counter with factual information, he said.
"This finger-pointing between the government, Islamic courts and Ethiopia will stop," Raffaelli said.
The rise of the Islamists has all but marginalized Somalia's interim government -- the 14th attempt at restoring central rule since the 1991 ouster of former dictator Mohamed Siyad Barre.
The internationally recognized government has almost no control of the country and enjoys the military protection of ally Ethiopia, witnesses say.
Addis Ababa denies sending any soldiers except military advisers to Somalia.
The Islamists, keenly attuned to Somalis' hatred of outside interference and view that Ethiopia is a Christian imperialist power, have portrayed Addis Ababa's support of the government as an affront to the Somalia's sovereignty.
Conflict could spell disaster for the stability of the east and Horn of Africa, diplomats say.
"I hope the Islamists will be wise enough to avoid retaliation," Raffaelli said. "It will really be a disaster because if fighting starts, if something on a large scale happens in Somalia, it will affect all its neighbors."
Raffaelli said he was in Mogadishu to organize informal consultations between the government and the Islamists before a third round of Arab League power-sharing talks due on Oct. 30 in the Sudanese capital Khartoum.
Source: Reuters Foundation