Somalia lifts broadcast ban, rules out peace talks

Somalia’s transitional government lifted a broadcast ban today, said the government spokesman, a day after it had ordered three Somali radio stations and an international television channel to stop operations.

In Baidoa, meanwhile, prime minister Ali Mohamed Gedi ruled out peace talks with the Islamic movement that his forces – with key help from Ethiopian troops - had just ousted from the capital.

He also said he hoped to see African peacekeepers in Somalia by the end of the month, but so far only one country has committed to contributing troops and few others have shown enthusiasm for a proposed 8,000-strong African mission to bolster the government’s attempt to create law and order.

Since wresting Mogadishu from the Islamic movement, the government has taken several steps meant to assert its authority, with so far uncertain results.

A call for national disarmament was largely ignored. Yesterday, the president, Abdullahi Yusuf, appointed a mayor and administration for Mogadishu.

Also yesterday, a security official of Somalia’s transitional government ordered three Somali radio stations and Al-Jazeera, the international television station, to shut down indefinitely.

That order was rescinded today after discussions, said Abdirahman Dinari, the government spokesman.

In recent months, the Islamic movement as well as government officials have arrested and then released journalists for reporting on issues deemed sensitive. One radio station was briefly closed by the Islamic movement for broadcasting Somali love songs.

Reporting to the transitional parliament about the government’s work since it relocated to the capital, Mogadishu, in December, Gedi said a team from the African Union is in the country for discussions about the size and mandate of the peacekeeping mission.

“We expect troops from Uganda, Nigeria, South Africa, Malawi, Senegal and other countries by the end of January,” Gedi told parliament, which still sits in Baidoa, the government’s former base 155 miles northwest of Mogadishu.

Uganda has indicated it is willing to send 1,500 peacekeepers as part of a wider mission.

In Dakar, Senegal, Senegalese army spokesman Col. Antoine Wardini said yesterday that his government had received the request for troops, but said there were not yet plans to contribute.

Nigeria reiterated yesterday that it would not comment on whether it would send troops until after an African Union summit set for January 29-30 in Ethiopia.

Mukoni Ratshitanga, a spokesman for South African President Thabo Mbeki, said yesterday that Mbeki has said a request was being considered and “as soon as a decision is taken it will be communicated.”

In neighbouring Kenya, Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi and Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki said that an African “stabilisation force” should be deployed immediately.

The US, the United Nations and the African Union all want to deploy African peacekeepers to stop Somalia from returning to clan-based violence and anarchy that has characterised the country since 1991 when warlords overthrew long-time dictator Mohamed Siad Barre and then turned on each other.

A peacekeeping mission, however, is most likely to face some violence, something that may deter many countries from committing soldiers.

There has been sporadic fighting since the government took over Mogadishu on December 28. Leaders of the Islamic movement have pledged to carry on a guerrilla war as long as Ethiopian troops remain in Somalia.

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