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Last Updated: Thursday, 15 June 2006, 22:47 GMT 23:47 UK
UN group backs Somalia government
Islamic fighter in front of battlewagon
The Islamists have become Somalia's strongest fighting force
The first meeting in New York of a new international Contact Group on Somalia has given strong backing to the transitional government there.

The government, set up with UN backing two years ago, has been unable to enter the capital Mogadishu, now controlled by an Islamist militia.

After its first meeting, the group said it supported Somalia's institutions.

It also called for urgent aid to Somalia and said it intended to address international concerns over terrorism.

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

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

Analysts say the new Contact Group is a effort to redraw policies towards Somalia in the wake of the Islamic militia's success.

The militia has seized much of southern Somalia, including Mogadishu, from warlords believed to be US-backed.

'Step forward'

The UN and African Union were invited to the talks as observers but the Arab League and Kenya were unhappy at being excluded.

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

Facts and figures about life in Somalia

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

The government, set up in 2004, has been largely powerless to bring peace.

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan said the New York talks were a "good step forward".

He praised the US for hosting them and for trying to formulate a new policy in the region.

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

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 "totally forgotten and neglected crisis... maybe because there is no government to speak on behalf of Somalia".

Peacekeepers

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 told the BBC 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".

He also said US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had encouraged Norway to head up peace efforts in 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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