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Last Updated: Tuesday, 18 July 2006, 16:54 GMT 17:54 UK
Somali president 'talks U-turn'
Somali battle-wagon
The Islamists control much of southern Somalia
Somalia's interim President Abdullahi Yusuf has dropped his opposition to talks in Sudan with Islamist leaders who control the capital, Mogadishu.

He boycotted talks with the Union of Islamic Courts, accusing them of breaking a previously agreed ceasefire.

Reliable sources told the BBC he will send a delegation, although his weak government will not comment officially.

Meanwhile, an international contact group on Somalia meeting in Belgium has rejected sending foreign peacekeepers.

The International Contact Group, made up of western and African countries, issued a final communique urging broad-based talks among all Somali groups.

It backed training and equipping a Somali army and police force, but did not endorse an African Union plan to deploy troops to the country in support of President Yusuf.

President Abdullahi Yusuf
President Yusuf only controls small parts of Somalia

The president's weak, UN-backed government wants peacekeepers and a lifting of the weapons ban to rebuild security forces.

But Islamist leader Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys has said there is no need for peacekeepers, as the UIC have reunited the capital under their control after 15 years of anarchy and conflict.

Mr Aweys has denied US accusations that he and the UIC have links to al-Qaeda.

He also criticised the UN Security Council, which last week said it would back moves to lift the arms embargo and send peacekeepers.

"The problem of Somalia is not a lack of weapons, but a lack of peace and understanding of each other," he told the AFP news agency from his home in Galgadud, central Somalia.

Conflict fears

Government spokesman Abdirahman Mohamed Dinari told the BBC he could not confirm or deny that the government would be attending the talks.

map

But an official in Baidoa, the seat of Mr Yusuf's government, told AFP news agency that there had been a change of heart.

"He contacted the Sudanese government and affirmed the participation of the Somali government," the official said.

According to the Somali news website Shabelle, it was the president, the parliament speaker and the prime minister - the three key members of the transitional government - that have agreed to send a delegation to Khartoum.

Meanwhile, the UIC, which controls much of southern Somalia, has denied reports that the Islamist forces were planning to attack the government at its base in Baidoa, 200km from Mogadishu.

"We are making it clear that we are not planning to attack Baidoa, Kismayo or any other third region in the country. We want to work with whoever who wants to return peace to Somalia," Islamist leader Sheikh Sherif Sheikh Ahmed was quoted by Somali Puntlandpost website as saying.

Some fear that Somalia could descend into renewed conflict between the UIC and the government, possibly involving regional and international players.

Eritrea is accused of arming the UIC, while Ethiopia is seen as close to the government.

The UIC has accused Ethiopia of already sending troops to Baidoa but both governments have repeatedly denied such claims.

The International Contact Group was set up by the US after the Islamists seized Mogadishu last month.


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