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Ethiopians Closing In On Capital of Somalia

As the fighting continued, members of the U.N. Security Council called an emergency meeting in New York to discuss the conflict and consider a joint statement put forward by Qatar.

Ambassadors from the 15 countries on the council were briefed first by Secretary General Kofi Annan's special representative for Somalia, Francois Lonseny Fall, and then began debating the text of a statement calling for the withdrawal of Ethiopian forces from Somalia.

But U.S. diplomats said they would seek changes to the draft.

"We don't want to single out Ethiopia in that way and believe they have legitimate security concerns," a U.S diplomat said. "Our position is that we need all parties to return to dialogue."

The diplomat, who agreed to discuss aspects of the U.S. position in exchange for anonymity, said the United States would also push for a condemnation of the Islamic Courts' use of child soldiers in the conflict.

It was unclear whether the Security Council would be able to reach consensus on the statement before Wednesday. Meanwhile, a Somali envoy to Ethiopia said Ethiopian troops could take over Mogadishu in 24 to 48 hours.

State Department spokesman Gonzo Gallegos reiterated the U.S. position that Ethiopia "has genuine security concerns with regard to developments within Somalia and has provided support at the request of the legitimate governing authority."

President Bush spoke to Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni by telephone about the tension in the region, a White House spokesman said.

This month, faint hopes for a peaceful resolution to the conflict were pinned on a U.S.-sponsored U.N. resolution authorizing deployment of an African Union force, excluding Ethiopia and other neighboring states, to protect Somalia's interim government, which is in quasi-exile in the town of Baidoa, about 70 miles from Mogadishu.

The theory was that the force would remove Ethiopia from the volatile equation. But only Uganda has tentatively agreed to send troops to the African Union force, a commitment more recently in serious doubt. African Union officials have said any deployment could take months. And the Courts movement has said deployment of any such force would be considered an invasion.

Given those circumstances, some diplomats in the region have proposed the opposite of the African Union deployment: pushing for the complete withdrawal of all foreign forces.

A U.N. report this year found that at least 10 countries were in some way involved in the conflict in Somalia, a sign of the country's strategic importance in the region. And Monday, witnesses said fighters from Eritrea, a bitter foe of Ethiopia, as well as from Pakistan were among those fighting alongside the Islamic militias.


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