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EU To Present Memorandum To Somali Parties
NAIROBI, December 19, 2006 – The European Commissioner of Development and Humanitarian Aid, Louis Michel, is to press both sides in the Somali conflict "to resume talks in order to find a peaceful solution", the European Union has announced.
In a statement issued on Tuesday, the EU said Michel, who is expected to travel to Somalia, would present a memorandum of understanding to Somalia's adversaries, the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC) and the Transitional Federal Government (TFG), in a bid to prevent an escalation of the conflict.
"The European Commission remains deeply concerned at the deteriorating security situation in Somalia and the risk of an imminent conflict between the Transitional Federal Government and the Supreme Council of Islamic Courts," it said.
Tensions have been rising in the country since 6 December, when the United Nations Security Council approved plans to send peacekeepers to protect the TFG, based in the southern city of Baidoa, and partially lift an arms embargo. The UIC is opposed to the deployment of a UN peacekeeping mission.
Forces of the UIC and those of the transitional government have been massing around Baidoa, prompting some residents to leave their homes amid fears that fighting could break out at any time, witnesses said.
A local resident told IRIN on Tuesday that residents had fled many villages near Baidoa, afraid of being caught in crossfire.
"Some villages, like Daynuunay [15 km north of Baidoa] are totally deserted," he said. He said many people living in villages to the north and west of Baidoa have been leaving in the past two weeks. "I think people are taking precautions and are getting out of the way in case war breaks out," he added.
Most Somalis, including both the TFG and the UIC, have welcomed this latest EU initiative, as efforts to avert an all-out war by the international community intensify.
"We have always welcomed and supported any efforts aimed at avoiding war in our country," Abdirahim Ali Mudey, the UIC's head of communication and information told IRIN on Tuesday. "We will of course support the Commissioner's effort but we will also tell him our views on the way forward."
TFG Information Minister Ali Jama Jangali said: "We welcome any efforts by anyone or organization that would contribute peace and stability in Somalia. The TFG will, however, issue a comprehensive statement tonight or tomorrow on the visit."
"As civil society we welcome this new EU initiative," Abdillahi Shirwa of the Civil Society in Action, a coalition of civil-society groups, said.
"If they [the EU] are serious and keep the pressure on both sides it will have a positive impact," he said, adding, "The last thing Somalia needs is war. It would be a humanitarian catastrophe on already suffering people."
According to the UN, "the consequences of any widespread conflict would be disastrous, including massive internal movement, civilian casualties, and further livelihood and asset erosion."
Up to 454,500 people are estimated to have been displaced countrywide, particularly in the Juba and Shabelle riverine regions, after heavy rains in September-November in Somalia and Ethiopia caused extensive destruction of property and loss of crops and livestock.
The statement said that Michel had contacted key players in Somalia, including the President of the TFG, Abdillahi Yusuf, Prime Minister Ali Muhammad Gedi, and Speaker Sharif Hassan Sheikh Aden. Michel also contacted Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys, the Chairman of the Consultative Council of the UIC.
It said his memorandum had the support of "key international partners. By signing this memorandum, all parties would commit themselves to an immediate cessation of hostilities and to a resumption of talks at the highest level in the framework of the Khartoum process."
The two sides have twice met in the Sudanese capital, Khartoum, but failed to reach any lasting agreement.
Somalia 's transitional government was installed in late 2004 in an effort to bring peace and security to the Horn of Africa country, which has not had an effective government for 16 years.
In June this year, the UIC defeated the warlords who had controlled the city since 1991, following the collapse of the regime headed by Somalia's last real president, Muhammad Siyad Barre.
Source: United Nations Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN)