East Africa Welcomes Somalia Back to Fold, Encourages Dialogue
East African leaders welcomed Somalia back into their fold at a summit this week while encouraging the country's new president, its first in almost a decade, to talk to those who bitterly oppose him.
Thursday's summit meeting here of the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) was the first since 1991 to see Somalia's seat occupied, in this case by President Abdulkassim Salat Hassan, who was appointed transitional head of state in late August.
"We rejoin our family," said Salat, who owes his nomination to a transitional parliament borne out of a reconciliation conference held in the Djibouti resort of Arta.
"Somalia was admitted to the Millennium UN summit, the General Assembly, the Arab league, the Islamic Conference, but IGAD is very important because they are our neighboring countries," he told AFP after the summit.
"Peace and reconciliation in Somalia are very important for our neighbors. Everybody was welcoming," he said.
The entire reconciliation process, including Salat's position as president, faces strong opposition from the warlords who have carved up much of Somalia since the 1991 fall of president Mohammed Siad Barre.
It is also opposed by the leaders of two northern regions, Somaliland and Puntland, which have respectively -- without recognition -- declared their independence and autonomy.
Presidents Ismael Omar Guelleh of Djibouti, Omar el-Beshir of Sudan and Issaias Afeworki of Eritrea all said at the summit that they were pleased to welcome Somalia back to IGAD.
Ethiopia seems rather less enthusiastic, having described the reconciliation process pushed through by Guelleh as an important, but incomplete development.
Addis Ababa has a close relationship with Somali warlord Hassan Mohamed Nur Shatigudud, who, despite taking part in the Arta talks, has refused to recognise the leaders that emerged from the conference.
Salat visited Addis Ababa earlier this month, but only after Somaliland "President" Mohammed Egal also made the trip.
The IGAD summiteers agreed to keep a close watch on the reconciliation process and called on the international community to help.
"The Somali question has made an important step forwards," opined Rino Serri, the European Union's special envoy.
Still, the position of Somalia's new leaders remains precarious. "They cannot go on much longer controlling just a part of the capital," according to one western observer."
"We must give time to time," countered Salat, who said direct or indirect contacts had been made with all his opponents -- KHARTOUM (AFP)
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