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Somali govt rejects parliament speaker's peace plan
By Guled Mohamed
MOGADISHU, Nov 11, 2006 - The interim Somali government on Saturday rejected a last-ditch deal brokered by their parliament speaker to restart talks to avert war with a powerful Islamist movement threatening their slim authority.
The decision came after a cabinet meeting about the agreement reached by parliament Speaker Sharif Hassan Sheikh Adan and the Islamists on Friday, seen as a last best hope at avoiding a conflict that could engulf the Horn of Africa.
"The cabinet sees the speaker's meeting with the Islamists as personal and one that is not representative of the government," Information Minister Ali Ahmed Jama "Jangali" told Reuters, reading from a statement issued by the cabinet.
"The stated agreements are non-existent."
Diplomats had said Adan's backchannel initiative was the best chance Somalia had of avoiding a war between Islamists and the Ethiopian-backed government, whose troops are just kilometres (miles) apart.
Compounding the potential for regional bloodshed, security experts have told Reuters that Ethiopia has as many as 10,000 troops inside Somalia, while its rival Eritrea has sent in up to 2,500 to support the Islamists. Asmara denies that.
Islamist spokesman Sheikh Abdirihin Mudey immediately accused the government of doing the bidding of its military patron, Ethiopia: "We see the foreign hand in this decision. The government cannot make a decision on its own."
"We will be forced to talk with other responsible people or forced to stop recognising them as government. They don't deserve such recognition."
The Islamists have declared holy war against Ethiopia for bringing its soldiers into Somalia, while Addis Ababa says the Islamists are led by terrorists.
Adan has always had good relations with the Islamists and some of their businessmen backers, which has often put him at odds with President Abdullahi Yusuf and Prime Minister Ali Mohamed Gedi, who are closely allied to Addis Ababa.
Both the Islamists and government have accused each other of breaking agreements not to make military moves, made in earlier rounds of Arab League-led talks in the Sudanese capital. A third round collapsed two weeks ago.
The two sides also agreed to recognise each other, but the talks have barely gone anywhere as a military build-up has accelerated at a pace security experts say is frightening by the standards of a country mired in anarchy since 1991.
Yusuf and Gedi are deeply distrustful of the Islamists and reject their claim of authority in the country, saying their shaky government has Western backing and international recognition.
But the government is only able -- with Ethiopian help -- to control the south-central trading outpost of Baidoa, while the Islamists and their superior military control much of southern Somalia and imposed sharia law since coming to power in June.