A European Union delegation visiting Somalia's capital urged the country's increasingly powerful Islamic militia to resume peace talks with the government amid fears of war, an Islamic official said Wednesday.
The five-member delegation, including the Italian envoy to Somalia, Mario Raffaelli, met Tuesday with top leaders of the Council of Islamic Courts. The delegation was expected to meet soon with members of the government in Baidoa, the only town the administration controls.
The growing tension in Somalia, which has not had an effective government since 1991, threatens to erupt into a regional war.
Ibrahim Hassan Adow, the Islamic group's foreign affairs chief, said Wednesday that he told the EU delegates that "the worst-case scenario would continue to loom" unless troops from neighboring Ethiopia leave Somalia. His group had said Tuesday it would launch a major attack on Ethiopian troops if they don't withdraw from Somalia within seven days.
Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi dismissed the threat Wednesday, saying it was "nothing new."
Ethiopia supports the government and has acknowledged sending military advisers here, though not a fighting force.
Several peace initiatives between the Somali government and the Islamic council have failed to take hold, with both sides trading accusations over who is to blame for the deadlock. Talks between the two sides in Khartoum, Sudan, have not yielded lasting results.
Somalia has been without an effective central government since warlords toppled dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991 and then turned on each other, carving much of the country into armed camps ruled by violence and clan law.
The government was established two years ago with the support of the United Nations to serve as a transitional body to help Somalia emerge from anarchy. But the leadership, which includes some warlords linked to the violence of the past, has struggled to assert control.
The Islamic council, meanwhile, has been steadily gaining ground since seizing the capital, Mogadishu, in June. The United States has accused the group of sheltering suspects in the 1998 Al Qaeda bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, which it denies.