Somalis Must Reach Out for Unity, U.S. Official Says

By Karen DeYoung
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 18, 2007

The Bush administration's point person on Somalia expressed concern yesterday over the slow pace of efforts to form a unity government there.

A lack of willingness by the internationally backed transitional government to reach out to other groups and clans, including "moderate" representatives of an ousted Islamic movement, "frankly, remains our greatest challenge," said Jendayi Frazer, assistant secretary of state for African affairs.

In particular, the transitional government's decision yesterday to fire the parliamentary speaker, Sharif Hassan Sheik Aden, who had made peace overtures to the Islamic movement, would have a "negative impact," Frazer said at a conference on Somalia at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

The administration had been clear in discussions with the government, she said, that it "must reach out" to other groups in order to break the cycle of violence in Somalia.

In Nairobi, the U.S. ambassador to Kenya, Michael E. Ranneberger, told reporters that Aden was "the kind of person who could pull people together."

In a separate address at the Washington conference, Sen. Russell Feingold (D-Wis.) said the transitional government was "already running the risk of missing a critical window to establish itself as a credible, transparent and representative government." Feingold criticized what he said was the Bush administration's slow response to the situation in Somalia and its focus on capturing al-Qaeda suspects it says are being harbored by the Islamic movement.

The U.S. military targeted al-Qaeda suspects in an airstrike this month in southern Somalia, where they had fled after Ethiopian troops invaded in late December and installed the transitional government in Mogadishu, the Somali capital. The strike killed as many as 10 people but none of the targets.

A more "comprehensive strategy" including assistance for security, governance, reconstruction and humanitarian needs "has yet to be developed," said Feingold, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee on African affairs. He said he would hold early hearings on Somalia.

Frazer said the administration already has a comprehensive strategy covering those areas. There are continuing efforts to enlist an African peacekeeping force to replace the Ethiopian military, she said, although Uganda remains the only country that has made a commitment to the mission. Details are being worked out for a U.S. airlift of the 1,500 Ugandan troops, who she said should arrive by mid-February.

"I'm so keen on this I feel like maybe we should just hire some planes and pick them up and drop them at the Mogadishu airport," she said.

In addition to promoting political stability and a peacekeeping force, Frazer said, the administration was committed to providing reconstruction and humanitarian assistance. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice recently announced an initial $40 million in U.S. aid.

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