Sec. Council calls for end to fighting in Somalia

The UN Security Council called Friday for an end to the ongoing violence that has intensified between Somalia's transitional government and its Muslim extremist rivals and a resumption of talks. In a presidential statement read at a formal meeting, the council called on the feuding parties "to draw back from conflict, recommit to dialogue ... and refrain from any actions that could provoke or perpetuate violence and violations of human rights." "The Security Council reaffirms its commitment to a comprehensive and lasting settlement of the situation in Somalia ... stressing the importance of broad-based and representative institutions and of an inclusive political process," the statement said. The clashes between hardline Islamic militants, the Union of Islamic Courts, and the Ethiopian-backed interim government threaten to spiral into a major conflict, involving Ethiopia and its bitter rival Eritrea, which is accused of supporting the Islamic group. Islamic forces have declared they want to bring the whole country under Quranic rule and promised to continue attacks to drive out troops from neighboring Ethiopia, a largely Christian nation that is providing military support. The council emphasized the "need for continued credible dialogue" and urged both sides to resume talks "without delay." "The Security Council welcomed and supported all regional and international efforts "to promote and encourage political dialogue" between the transitional government and the Union of Islamic Courts. Government officials have said that more than 600 Islamic fighters had been killed during four days of clashes. Islamic militia said they had killed around 400 Ethiopians and government fighters, but neither claim could be confirmed independently. The United Nations has appealed for calm, saying fighting would prevent aid from reaching hundreds of thousands in need of help because of hunger and flooding. Somalia has not had an effective government since 1991. The country's secular interim government, set up in 2004 and backed by the U.N., has rejected religious rule, but Muslim leaders have insisted on an Islamic government. Somalia's internationally recognized interim government holds only a small area around Baidoa, about 140 miles northwest of the capital, Mogadishu. The Islamic militiamen, meanwhile, control Mogadishu along with most of southern Somalia.