Somali Gov't Agrees to Talks With Islamic Militia

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Somalia's weak transitional government has agreed to attend peace talks with the Islamic militia controlling of most of the country's south, a government spokesman said Tuesday.

The U.N.-backed administration announced last week it would boycott the talks scheduled for July 22 in Sudan, saying the militants had killed civilians and were growing increasingly radical.

But spokesman Abdirahman Mohamed Dinari said that government leaders had reversed their decision.

"The talks are the last hope and chance for peace and stability," he said.

CountryWatch: Somalia

In spite of the peace overture, a Cabinet minister was reported to be recruiting militiamen to bolster the government, which wields no real power outside its base in Baidoa, 150 miles northwest of the capital, Mogadishu.

Minister Hussein Aideed met clan elders in the town of Galkayo, about 350 miles northwest of Mogadishu, and asked for recruiting help, elder Hussein Rage Jamah told The Associated Press. He did not say how many fighters Aideed was seeking.

The peace talks are seen as a move toward international recognition for the Islamic militia, which the United States accuses of harboring Al Qaeda and wanting to impose a Taliban-style theocracy.

The Islamic group wrested Mogadishu from a secular alliance of warlords last month, bringing weeks of relative calm to a capital in chaos since the last effective central government was overthrown in 1991.

The Islamic militia group has since cracked down on purportedly non-Islamic activities, such as a World Cup screening and a wedding with live music. It also replaced its moderate main leader with Sheik Hassan Dahir Aweys, whom the U.S. has linked to Usama bin Laden's terrorist organization. Aweys denies the allegations.

U.S. officials had cooperated with the secular warlords, hoping to capture three al-Qaida leaders — allegedly protected by the Islamic militia — who are accused in the deadly 1998 bombings at the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.