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Secretary-General Ban calls for more diplomatic efforts on Somalia; UN envoy is hopeful

Secretary-General Ban calls for more diplomatic efforts on Somalia; UN envoy is hopeful

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today said that while he understood the “necessity” behind the recent United States military operations in Somalia, aimed at suspected Al-Qaida targets, diplomatic efforts must be redoubled to bring peace to the war-ravaged country that has not had a functioning government since 1991.

Mr. Ban made his remarks at his first formal news conference at UN Headquarters in New York since becoming Secretary-General on 1 January, while in Kenya today, his Special Representative for Somalia François Lonseny Fall said closed-door talks on Wednesday between top Somali leaders were an “important step towards reconciliation.”

“I am closely following the situation in Somalia and what I said through my spokesperson the other day immediately after this [US] attack on Somalia, hideout of Al-Qaeda, that was simply a concern about the possibility of impact on civilians and the reported loss of civilians,” Mr. Ban told reporters.

He said, “While I fully understand the necessity behind this attack, we should be cautious enough [that this kind of situation will not] lead to unwanted directions.” The situation in Somalia, he added, is “a very stark reminder that we need to redouble our diplomatic efforts to have some political process for the realization of a peaceful resolution of this issue.”

From Nairobi, Mr. Fall warmly welcomed the positive outcome of yesterday’s discussions between Somali President Abdullahi Yusuf and former Presidents Abdikassim Salad Hassan and Ali Mahdi, urging them to continue the dialogue and reach out to the affected population.

“This is a hopeful sign and an important step towards reconciliation in Somalia. I would strongly encourage them to move forward and to continue to reach out to all those in Somalia who have a stake in the country’s peace and stability,” said Mr. Fall.

“The continuation of such meetings with key political actors would send a strong message to the Somali people that reconciliation is indeed possible in Somalia and that differences that have festered through some 16 years of conflict can be resolved,” he added.

After their meeting, President Yusuf told reporters that he and former President Abdikassim had agreed that international and African peacekeepers should come to Somalia immediately to replace the Ethiopian forces now supporting the Transitional Federal Government (TFG), which took over after the recent fighting with supporters of the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC).

Mr. Fall reiterated that the UN and the international community were committed to supporting the TFG and the opportunity it now had to bring about an all-inclusive process aimed at peace and reconciliation.

“Somalia desperately needs reconciliation and a political settlement that is based on the Transitional Federal Charter and includes religious leaders, clan elders, women, youth, the business community and other members of civil society. When leaders agree, as we have seen this week, it is much easier for others to follow.”

On Wednesday, the Security Council called for greater humanitarian assistance and more inclusive political dialogue in the country and reiterated its backing for the creation of an African protection and training mission. The UN has also said it is sending an aid mission to Somalia’s border with Kenya, where thousands of people have gathered to escape the fighting.

In a separate development, Mr. Ban, responding to a question referring to today’s fifth anniversary of the opening of the US detention centre in Guantánamo Bay, said he would make a trip to Washington D. C. at the invitation of President George W. Bush.

“Like my predecessor, I believe that the prison at Guantánamo should be closed and I also remember that President Bush himself has said that he would like to close it,” he told journalists.