From: Berhane Habtemariam (Berhane.Habtemariam@gmx.de)
Date: Wed Nov 19 2008 - 06:21:02 EST
Finnish MP Pekka Haavisto to travel to Eritrea
Finnish MP Pekka Haavisto to hold talks with warring sides in Somalia conflict
Former Darfur negotiator to report on discussions to UN and EU
Nov 19th, 2008
INTERNATIONAL EDITION - FOREIGN
Finnish Member of Parliament Pekka Haavisto (Green) is involved in efforts to negotiate peace in Somalia for the past year.
This week Haavisto travels to Eritrea to meet with representatives of the factions in the increasingly thorny conflict. He will report on the results of his efforts to both UN representatives and to EU Presidency-holder France. He visited the conflict area most recently in June.
Haavisto himself says that he has no official role in the negotiations beyond that of a "parliamentarian who is interested in the matter".
Nevertheless, Finnchurchaid, the foreign aid organisation of the Finnish Evangelical-Lutheran Church, has proposed that the Finnish government should name Haavisto as its representative in the peace processes in the Horn of Africa.
According to the Finnish Ministry for Foreign Affairs, Haavisto's possible role is under consideration. The ministry adds that Haavisto's work has had the support of the foreign policy leadership up to now.
The conflict in Somalia is seen to be a particularly difficult one for mediation. The country has a provisional government, which is being supported in its fight against Islamist rebels by forces of Ethiopia and the African Union. The Islamist front has split up into rival factions.
Ethiopia's arch-rival Eritrea is opposed to interference in the conflict by other countries, and it does not accept the presence of AU forces in Somalia. Eritrea has also been accused of supplying the Islamist rebels with weapons.
The United States is also involved, seeing the fight against the rebels as part of the war on terrorism.
Pekka Haavisto served as the special envoy of the European Union in the conflict in Darfur from 2005 to 2007. He says that during that time, he got to know the countries of the Horn of Africa because each of them was involved in the Darfur conflict to some extent. "At that time, I thought that I would maintain my knowledge in case my contacts might be of some help."
As a result of his role in the Darfur conflict, Haavisto has the confidence of the Islamists. He also has working contacts with the inner circles of the Eritrean administration, and he has met with leaders of the Somali provisional government, and with representatives of Ethiopia.
One Somali opposition group is based in the Eritrean capital Asmara. The breakaway faction was not accepted into the peace talks that were held in Djibouti this year. Those talks resulted in a cease fire which took effect in November.
In spite of the cease fire, both the UNHCR and the International Red Cross are very concerned about the development of the humanitarian situation in Somalia.
"The organisations see this as a strange conflict, which has got worse, in spite of peace negotiations. I believe that the situation stems from the fact that not all opposition groups have been taken into the negotiations", Haavisto says.
The international community has been of two minds about the Asmara group. "Some feel that it has been the supporter of such a hard line that only more moderate groups should be accepted at the negotiating table. I feel that it is possible to talk with this group as well", Haavisto says.
Haavisto has also met and maintained contact with factions that have not been involved in the actual peace talks. "The Asmara group can be quite a significant part of the pacification of Somalia", Haavisto says.
He has relayed information from his discussions with the various factions to the main UN negotiator for Somalia, Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, and to other instances at UN headquarters.
Haavisto admits that he has no great solution to the conflicts and civil war that have been raging in Somalia for over a decade. However, he says that there are "a few threads" that he has been able to grasp.
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