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U.N. urges Somalis overseas to back peace process
Sat Feb 28, 2009 6:49am EST
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By Abdi Sheikh
MOGADISHU (Reuters) - The United Nations urged Somalis living abroad to condemn violent insurgents and support President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed's new administration as it meets in Mogadishu for the first time on Saturday.
Ahmed is trying to form an inclusive unity government that will be the 15th attempt in 18 years to bring stability to the failed Horn of Africa state, which Washington fears could become a safe haven for extremists linked to al Qaeda.
Rebels including the hardline Islamist al Shabaab group attacked government forces and African Union (AU) peacekeepers on Tuesday and Wednesday, setting off the city's fiercest battles in weeks. More than 80 people, mostly civilians, were killed.
A local human rights group in Mogadishu said this week's clashes had uprooted some 17,000 people, and that 29 women and 12 children were among the dead.
In an open letter to the Somali diaspora, U.N. envoy Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah said the return of ministers to Mogadishu proved progress toward peace was being made faster than most Somalis or the international community had dared hope.
"Please tell those wanting Somalia to remain a divided country at the bottom of the heap to stop and focus on the peace process, on themselves, on their families and people to whom they bring only misery," Ould-Abdallah said.
More than 16,000 civilians have been killed in Somalia's two-year-old insurgency, 1 million have been driven from their homes, more than a third of the population depend on aid, and large parts of the capital lie empty and ruined by shellfire.
Al Shabaab gained support as one of many rebel groups fighting Ethiopian troops propping up the previous government. An Ethiopian withdrawal in January placated some Somalis, but al Shabaab has now turned its fire on the small AU peacekeeping mission, AMISOM, and Ahmed's new government.
Al Shabaab, which the United States has formally listed as a foreign terrorist organization with close ties to al Qaeda, said on Saturday many youths had volunteered for suicide attacks on the 3,500-strong AU force of troops from Uganda and Burundi.
"We have many teenagers who are competing to be enlisted as suicide bombers. They are bravely ready to penetrate our enemy's weak defenses," Shabaab said on its website www.kataaib.info.
"We promise any group that comes to violate our religion and land will return in bad health, God willing."
Two suicide bombings killed 11 peacekeepers from Burundi last weekend during an al Shabaab raid on an AMISOM base.
On Saturday, Ahmed told reporters in Mogadishu the AU troops would leave once Somalis had reached a comprehensive peace deal.
"There is no need for more bloodshed," he said. "We are all Muslims ... our priority is the implementation of sharia law." Continued...
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