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Rice urges cease-fire in Somalia

  • Story Highlights
  • Somalia should reach a cease-fire with "non-extremist" opposition, Rice says
  • She urges Ethiopia to avoid a border war with Eritrea
  • 6,000 civilians reported killed in Somalia this year
  • Rice also discusses Congo, Darfur at African Union meeting
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(CNN) -- Somalia should reach a cease-fire with its "non-extremist" opposition and finish plans to draft a new constitution, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Wednesday.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice speaks in Addis Ababa on Wednesday.

Speaking after a meeting with with African leaders in Ethiopia, she also urged Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi to take "concrete steps" to avoid a renewed war with neighboring Eritrea over its long-running border dispute.

Rice's visit to Addis Ababa came as Ethiopian troops are mired in a nearly year-long insurgency in Somalia, where its army is supporting the country's U.N.-backed transitional government.

"There must not be a resumption of hostilities initiated by either side," Rice said in a statement issued after the talks.

Somali government and Ethiopian troops are battling insurgents led by the Islamic Courts Union, which controlled much of the country before being deposed by Ethiopia's December 2006 invasion.

Recent fighting has sent an estimated 200,000 people fleeing the capital Mogadishu, where a government shakeup saw Prime Minister Ali Mohammed Gedi replaced last month by Nur Hassan Hussein, a former Red Crescent official.

"A cease-fire agreement with key stakeholders, such as clan and business leaders, would be an important step in helping to facilitate delivery of humanitarian assistance, and would reduce the level of violence and create the conditions for longer-term security sector reform," Rice said.

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"I also encouraged Prime Minister Hussein to develop a timeline for the remainder of the transitional process by early January, including the drafting of a new constitution and electoral law as the first step in this process."

The United States accuses the ICU of harboring suspected al Qaeda figures and did not protest the Ethiopian invasion.

At the same time, U.S. and NATO warships are patrolling the waters off Somalia to keep an eye out for suspected terrorists and crack down on the hijackings of merchant ships by Somali pirates.

Rice also met with leaders from Africa's Great Lakes countries, which include Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda and Uganda, during her visit. Uganda is the sole contributor so far to an African Union peacekeeping mission in Somalia, which Ethiopia had hoped would help keep order and allow its troops to leave.

Ethiopian officials Tuesday demanded that the international community step up its support for the mission. But in November, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon reported that the security situation made the deployment of a U.N. peacekeeping operation unrealistic.

Uganda has about 1,800 troops in Somalia, officially as the vanguard of a larger African Union peacekeeping force, though so far no other countries have sent reinforcements. Ethiopia, which sent soldiers to Somalia late last year to wipe out Islamic militants, is not part of the peacekeeping force and is hoping to withdraw.

"We do believe the Ethiopian forces should not have to stay in Somalia past a certain point, and that will require peacekeeping forces, very robust peacekeeping force, and so that will be part of my discussions here," Rice said.

Peacekeepers have tried to pacify Somalia before, with tragic results. More than a decade ago, a massive U.N. relief operation was launched for thousands of civilians left starving because of fighting in Somalia. But 1993 attacks by Somali militiamen that brought down two Black Hawk helicopters and killed 18 U.S. servicemen were followed by the withdrawal of U.S. troops and the eventual end of the U.N. peacekeeping operation.

Rice is only the fourth secretary of state to visit Ethiopia and the first in a decade. Madeleine Albright made a stop in Addis Ababa in 1997, according to the State Department historian's office.

In her first meeting Wednesday, Rice met with leaders from Burundi, Rwanda, Uganda and Congo to discuss fighting in eastern Congo that threatens stability throughout their Great Lakes region.

"We had a very thorough discussion," Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni said later, adding, "Part of the danger in Africa is handling issues in a superficial way."

Rice said dealing with rebels in eastern Congo is critical to re-establishing normalcy in a region that has been devastated by decades of war and genocide that have killed millions.

On Sudan, she said she would tackle elements of the Darfur conflict and the faltering peace deal that ended Sudan's long-running North-South civil war, even though President Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir's government has signaled it will not see her.

Rice said she wants to focus on overcoming logistical hurdles in Darfur to standing up a joint U.N.-African Union peacekeeping force for the vast region which has been ravished by years of conflict. "We're just going to have to remove these obstacles and get on with it," Rice said.

As for the 2005 peace deal between al-Bashir's government and southern rebels, she said "it's time to refocus our efforts there."

"That is really an agreement that we cannot afford to let unravel," Rice said. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

Copyright 2007 CNN. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Associated Press contributed to this report.

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