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Somali Parliament Leader to Seek Peace

November 3, 2006

NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) _ The leader of Somalia’s parliament said Friday he planned to open peace talks with Islamic militants this weekend in Mogadishu, and the militia controlling much of the country said it welcomed the freelance initiative.

Earlier this week, peace talks collapsed between militants and the government, which was formed two years ago with the support of the United Nations but only controls one town. The Islamists, however, have seized control of the capital and much of the country’s south since June.

Sharif Hassan Sheik Aden, who as the top parliamentarian wields important powers under Somalia’s constitution, said he will leave on Sunday for Somalia’s capital, which has been under the control of the increasingly powerful Council of Islamic Courts since June.

``We are going to Mogadishu to seek peace,″ he said.

He said he was entering into peace talks without the cooperation of the prime minister or president _ a direct challenge to their authority.

Asked why he didn’t consult executive-branch leaders, he said: ``It is impossible for them to reject it, as we are only seeking peace and reconciliation.″

Aden is considered the official in Somalia’s transitional institutions who is most sympathetic to the Islamic courts and the militants said they would welcome the member of parliament.

``We will welcome the speaker to Mogadishu because he is one of the MPs who care about the Somali people,″ said Islamic courts spokesman Sheik Abdirahim Ali Mudey.

Somalia has not had an effective government since 1991, when warlords overthrew a dictator and then turned on one another. But the Islamic courts have been expanding their territory since June and now control much of the country.

Experts warn that Somalia could become a proxy battleground for neighboring Eritrea and Ethiopia. Eritrea, which broke away from Ethiopia in a 1961-91 civil war and fought a 1998-2000 border war with its rival, supports the Islamic militia. Ethiopia backs the interim government.

A confidential U.N. report obtained by the AP last week said 6,000 to 8,000 Ethiopian troops were in Somalia or along the border. It also said 2,000 soldiers from Eritrea were inside Somalia. Eritrea denies having any troops there, while Ethiopia insists it has sent only a few hundred advisers.

The United States warns that Somali extremists are threatening suicide attacks in Kenya and Ethiopia. The U.S. government has charged that some in the Somali militant group have ties to al-Qaida.

Sheik Abdirahim Ali Mudey, a spokesman for the Islamic courts, said the allegations were baseless.

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