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Somalia Closer To War, After Failure To Revive Talks
Nairobi, Kenya , November 2, 2006 – The Islamists say they cannot talk while Ethiopian troops are on Somali soil to help President Abdillahi Yusuf's government and have called for an international fact-finding mission.
The Horn of Africa slipped closer to war on Thursday after intense efforts failed to revive peace talks between Somalia's powerful Islamists and the interim government.
The government on Thursday rebuffed efforts to reorganize peace talks on Nov. 15 after they failed this week in Khartoum.
"The government delegation has refused to set a date and a place," delegation member Ahmed Omar Gagale told Reuters after diplomats said mediators were trying to persuade the two sides to return to the table in the middle of the month.
The Islamists said they were ready for talks.
"We are always ready and prepared to go into negotiations," the head of the Islamist delegation Ibrahim Hassan Addow told reporters in Khartoum.
Likely escalation of violence
On the ground, Islamist sources said the movement was sending more fighters to the flashpoint town of Buur Hakaba. It lies between the government's headquarters in Baidoa and the Islamist base in the capital Mogadishu. Both sides have tested guns in recent days.
"Given the situation on the ground, the proximity of the forces and the artillery duels of the last few days, an escalation is likely," regional analyst Matt Bryden said. "It could be hours, it could be days, it could be weeks."
Both sides are blaming each other for the failure of a third round of Arab League-sponsored negotiations seen as the best way to avert a conflict which could quickly widen into a regional proxy war drawing in Ethiopia and Eritrea.
The Islamists, who took Mogadishu and a swathe of the south in June, say they cannot talk while Ethiopian troops are on Somali soil to help President Abdillahi Yusuf's government and have called for an international fact-finding mission.
The government says the Islamists want to take Somalia by force and perhaps invade other ethnically Somali regions of neighboring countries.
Ethiopia said the Islamists were never serious in the Khartoum talks.