03.08.2006 Somalia

Somali MPs ready to go to talks

By bbc
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Members of Somalia's interim parliament are ready to travel to Sudan for more peace talks with Islamic courts that control the capital, Mogadishu.

Parliament's speaker is discussing the trip with the president, who supports the trip. It is not clear whether the Islamists are ready for talks now.

The prime minister's rejection of talks has caused a crisis in the government.

Eritrea meanwhile denies it is waging a proxy war with Ethiopia on Somali soil. Ethiopia earlier made a similar denial.

The MPs could leave for Khartoum as early as Thursday, depending on the outcome of the discussions between Speaker Abdullahi Yusuf and President Sharif Hassan Sheikh Aden, the BBC's Mohammed Olad Hassan reports.

The trip could however be postponed if representatives of the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC), or the Arab League mediators, are not yet ready, our correspondent says.

Prime Minister Ali Mohamed Ghedi's stance against the talks has left him increasingly isolated over the past week, with more than 30 members of his administration resigning.

Mr Ghedi's government is already weak, controlling little more than the town of Baidoa where it is based, while militia loyal to the UIC have brought stability to Mogadishu.

'No proxy battlefield'

Eritrea on Wednesday rejected reports that it has been sending arms to Islamist militia in Somalia.

"Eritrea firmly rejects all groundless accusations peddled against it in the past few months," a statement on the Eritrean government's Shabait website said.

"As underlined before, Eritrea has never seen Somalia as a proxy battlefield to settle scores with Ethiopia."

Earlier, Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi - whose country supports the Somali interim government - denied Ethiopia has sent troops to Somalia.

Ethiopian troops were seen around Baidoa two weeks ago, and their presence has been cited by the Islamic courts as a reason for refusing talks with the government.

"I have heard of these reports but I reaffirm categorically that we do not have troops in Somalia," Mr Meles said in a BBC interview.

Mr Meles also accused Eritrea of secretly arming the Islamists, but denied that Ethiopia and Eritrea were fighting a proxy war in Somalia.

Diplomats have also said that Mr Meles had privately acknowledged the presence of Ethiopian troops on Somali soil.

Calls for dialogue

The leader of the Supreme Council of the Islamic Courts in Mogadishu, Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweis, said his militia would welcome the resigned ministers to join what he described as the Islamic courts' common endeavour for peace and a better future for the country.

"I appreciate the steps taken by the cabinet members," he said in an interview broadcast by the local Shabelle radio station.

"They felt how badly the prime minister is behaving and that is what caused the ministers to resign" he added.

The prime minister met ministers and loyalist MPs on Wednesday, and Information Minister Mohamed Abdi Hayir Mareye said a committee had been set up to try to resolve differences within the government and parliament through dialogue.

Since late last week about 40 ministers have left a government that once had more than 100 members, and Prime Minister Ghedi narrowly survived a parliamentary vote of no confidence on Saturday.

Somalia has been without an effective central government since warlords toppled dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991.

Since then much of the country has been ruled by violence and clan law.

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