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African Union Sessions to Focus on Crisis in Somalia
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African Union Sessions to Focus on Crisis in Somalia

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African Union Sessions to Focus on Crisis in Somalia
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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

And I'm Michele Norris.

This weekend in Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia, members of the African Union are meeting, along with representatives from the U.S. and European Union. At the top of the agenda, how to stabilize Somalia. The fighting between Islamist and the traditional government there is over.

But as NPR's Gwen Thompkins reports, the delegates meeting this weekend face a very difficult challenge - trying to put Somalia on a better path.

GWEN THOMPKINS: A Somali poet once wrote, "My two hands - left and right - are twins. One twin gives food to strangers and to guests. It sustains the weak and guides them. But the other is a slashing, cutting knife - as sharp to the taste as myrrh, as bitter as the aloe."

He might've been talking about today's crisis in Somalia and the international players meeting in Addis Ababa.

Mr. ID BENU MOHAMED(ph): Now, the summit coming of African Union is crucial from the African countries to contribute in peace. But the donor communities, the European and the United States, has much more critical role to play by reengaging seriously of institution of Somalia.

THOMPKINS: That's Id Benu Mohamed. He's a councilor in Somalia's mission to the United Nations. He will present the pay now or pay more later view of Somalia at the meeting in Addis. Mohammad says that Uganda, Malawi and Nigeria are among the African states willing to send peacekeepers to help stabilize Somalia. But African countries need the European Commission and the United States to pay for the mission. And if need be, he says, the West needs to spend more money than has already been promised. If not, Mohammad warns that terrorism on the horn of Africa and beyond will be everybody's fault.

Mr. MOHAMED: The international community immediately engaged the conflict of Liberia, created a government supported by sending in peacekeeping forces led by the African Union. The international community immediately take the attention of Burundi, supported the peace process, created a government and deployed our force, led by the African Union. The international community led immediate intervention in Congo, deployed many peacekeeping force, stabilize the situation, ultimately it created a democratic government.

So if the international community has intervened other hot spots as quickly as possible, I don't understand why they are taking so long when it's going to Somalia.

THOMPKINS: But when it comes to Somalia, the Americans and the Europeans are not always on the same key or the same pitch. They do start off the same. U.S. officials and European diplomats say the first thing they want to see at the African Union meeting is for the full complement of members to commit to an African peacekeeping force in Somalia. The West wants everyone on stage and singing the same song. And that goes for Somalia's transitional government, too.

They must demonstrate to the West that they are serious about reconciling with old enemies in the Islamic Courts Union.

Prime Minister ALI MOHAMED GHEDI (Somalia): We have several times have pleaded to (unintelligible) toward Islam - also Islamic forces to come back home and participate in the reconciliation process. And we are continuing with that effort.

THOMPKINS: That's Somali Prime Minister Ali Mohamed Ghedi, talking to diplomats in Nairobi this week. Somalia's leaders have troubled some members of the European Commission, who worry about the 90 days of martial law there, about the sacking of the parliamentary speaker and about the government's slow pace in making peace with Islamists.

But the U.S., along with Britain, Norway and Denmark, appear less interested in the day to day details of writing Somalia, and more willing to support the transitional government's decisions. One Somali official described the American approach to Somalia as conflict resolution and the European Commission's approach as conflict management. But while the diplomats are parsing phrases and attest, Somalis at home have a grocery list of things they'd like to see. No kidding, it's a grocery list.

Mr. ALI DOY(ph) (Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Somalia): Maize, wheat flour, rice, pasta, whatever someone eats in there, and then gluten, and fruits, vegetables and lentils. It could be kitchen utensils, it could be shelter, set up tents or otherwise blanket Sheets.

THOMPKINS: Ali Doy is an analyst for the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Somalia. He says, these past weeks have been tough on people in southern Somalia, who've have born catastrophic flooding and then fighting. And in some areas, U.S. and Ethiopian air strikes. Access is still severely restricted in areas where people need help the most, which brings us to the words of yet another Somali poet.

"Tea and drink of thinned brown honey. Mutton, spiced and finely sliced. On such things were my thoughts and my affections set. But this world provides no lasting satisfaction."

Gwen Thompkins, NPR News, Nairobi.

NORRIS: And you can find complete versions of the poems Gwen was reading from, at NPR.org.

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