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Last Updated: Thursday, 15 June 2006, 21:43 GMT 22:43 UK
Key US talks on Somali Islamists
Islamic fighter in front of battlewagon
The Islamists have become Somalia's strongest fighting force
The United States is hosting an international meeting in New York to discuss the military successes in Somalia of an Islamic militia.

The Somalia Contact Group talks come as the Islamists tighten their grip.

They have seized much of southern Somalia, including the capital, from warlords who are believed to have the backing of the United States.

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan said on Thursday that he "would not have supported the warlords".

However, he praised the US for hosting the talks and for trying to frame a new policy in the region.

'Step forward'

The UK, US, Norway, Sweden, Italy, Tanzania and representatives from the European Union are taking part in the talks at Norway's UN mission in New York.

The UN and African Union have been invited to observe but the Arab League and Kenya are unhappy at being excluded.

It is a totally forgotten and neglected crisis
Jan Egeland,
UN emergency relief coordinator

Kenya has played a crucial role in long-running Somali peace talks, which led to the formation of a fragile interim government in the town of Baidoa - based there because the capital, Mogadishu is too dangerous.

No-one from Somalia's transitional government was invited.

Mr Annan said the talks were a "good step forward".

But he added: "I don't think I would have recommended the United Nations or the Security Council supporting the warlords."

Facts and figures about life in Somalia

US Ambassador John Bolton said of Mr Annan's comments: "I certainly hope it is not an implicit criticism of American efforts to round up terrorists."

UN emergency relief coordinator Jan Egeland said Somalia was a "forgotten and neglected crisis... maybe because there is no government to speak on behalf of Somalia".

Washington proposed the forum to "promote concerted action and coordination to support the Somalia transitional federal institutions".

But it has warned against any high expectations from the talks.

The African Union special representative for Somalia, Mohamed Ali Foum, said there was "an urgent need to give support to the transitional federal government to help bring back stability".

Norwegian foreign minister Jonas Stoere said future talks with the Islamists had not been ruled out and that there had to be an "open mind to engaging in dialogue inside Somalia".

The Islamist victory in Mogadishu is seen as a major setback for US policy in the region.

The US has neither confirmed nor denied reports it backs the warlords but says it will stop Somalia becoming a safe haven for terrorists.

Somalia has not had an effective national government for 15 years, during which time it has been fought over by a host of different armed factions.

Somalia's interim parliament on Wednesday voted in favour of a deployment of African peacekeepers.

But the Islamists strongly oppose the move.




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