Annan Calls for Resumption of Somali Peace Talks

U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan urged feuding Somali leaders to return to the negotiating table and the international community to stop interfering in the Horn of Africa nation's politics.

Talks between Somalia's transitional government and the Islamic Courts Union broke down at the beginning of November in Sudan's capital, Khartoum.

Since then, tensions have continued to escalate between the two sides. The latest conflict occurred last Sunday, when Islamic Courts militiamen took control of Bandiradley in the semi-autonomous region of Puntland.

Annan told reporters the situation in Somalia is serious, and called for the resumption of negotiations.

"I also urge the two groups - the transitional government and the Islamic Courts - to avoid further confrontation and military action,” he said. “The people of Somalia have suffered for a long time. It is a country that has been in crisis for well over 15 years and can be described as a failed state."

The Islamic Courts Union began its expansion in June, taking control of Mogadishu and eventually gaining control over large parts of the south.

The two sides signed an interim peace accord in September. The talks in November in Khartoum were meant to finalize the accord that, among other things, called for the creation of a joint national army and police force.

One of the many stumbling blocks to the negotiations was the Islamic Courts' insistence that it would not continue the talks until all Ethiopian troops that are supporting the transitional government leave Somalia.

Eyewitnesses reported seeing Ethiopian troops in various areas of the country. The Somali and Ethiopian governments admit that there are a small number of troops in Somalia, but in an advisory, not a combat, capacity.

At the talks, the Islamic Courts Union objected to Kenya chairing the negotiations, saying that Kenya was biased in favor of the government.

Annan said Somalis must take control over the peace process, primarily by going back to the table.

"I would also urge neighboring countries to avoid interfering in Somalia,” he added. “It is already a difficult and volatile situation. We do not need to see it further complicated by neighboring countries rushing in with troops or guns to support one side or the other. It will only compound the problem."

Since civil war broke out in 1991, militias loyal to clan and sub-clan-based factions have controlled different parts of the country, with no central authority to provide law and order and even basic services to the population.

A transitional Somali parliament was formed in Kenya more than a year ago following a peace process.