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Somalia: Dialogue with ‘Islamic Court’ militias

Top UN envoy to Somalia calls for dialogue with ‘Islamic Court’ militias

Saying that militias connected to Islamic courts now control three major districts of Somalia and might be driving toward the Ethiopian border, the top United Nations envoy to the country stressed today that it is crucial to open a legitimate dialogue between the leaders of that movement and the Transitional Government.

“If something is not done now, the conflict might take on a regional dimension,” François Lonsény Fall, Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s Special Representative told journalists in New York after briefing the Security Council upon returning from his trip to the region.

Any dialogue with the Union of Islamic Courts, who earlier this month drove warlords out of the capital, Mogadishu, must, he stressed, be done under the framework of the transitional Charter and the other transitional institutions that have be painstakingly built over the past few years with the support of the international community in Somalia, which has not had a functioning government since the collapse of President Muhammad Siad Barre’s regime in 1991.

In response to journalists’ questions, Mr. Fall said that even given its long history as a “failed State,” Somalia was receiving stronger Council attention at the current time because progress in building those transitional institutions could now be erased, and it is very possible that there are extremist elements among the Islamic Court leaders, though very little is known about them.

He also pointed to the danger of regional destabilization; there have already been unconfirmed indications of Ethiopian troop movements toward the Somali border.

Compounding this, humanitarian agencies are facing increasing difficulties in gaining access to people in the areas now controlled by the Islamic Courts. Mr. Fall said that a meeting between an international humanitarian team and leaders of the Islamic courts was in the process of being arranged, representing the first diplomatic contacts with any of them.

Meanwhile, The UN World Food Programme (WFP) and the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) reported today that the recent fighting, the worst drought in a decade and decreased humanitarian access have combined to create the most severe malnutrition in Somalia in years.

With malnutrition rates at 23 per cent, the agencies say, the situation is much worse than the 15 per cent malnutrition that would signal an emergency. In southern Somalia, five surveys taken since January found that one fifth of children were so malnourished that they needed supplementary or therapeutic feeding and than only 10 per cent of those needing such feeding were being reached.

The agencies called on Somali authorities, donors and others to take urgent action over the next 10 weeks to get food and other assistance to those most in need.

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