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Saudi peacekeeping force in Somalia

Saudi King Abdullah oversaw the signing Sunday of a reconciliation agreement negotiated by several Somali factions in an attempt to stabilize their country and battle the Islamic opposition.

Cheers filled the hall where members of a high-level Somali delegation congregated after the pact was signed. The group included the premier, parliamentary speaker and president of Somalia's U.N.-backed transitional government.

A Saudi official told The Associated Press the Somalis asked that the reconciliation pact be signed in the kingdom even though it was drafted during a monthlong conference in the Somali capital of Mogadishu last month.

Much of Somalia, especially the capital, has been wracked by violence pitting the government and its Ethiopian allies against Islamic insurgents.

The Mogadishu conference, which ended Aug. 30 and included representatives from the government and many of Somalia's clans, did not produce any major breakthroughs. Much of the stalemate was due to clan allegiances _ there are dozens of clan factions in the capital, each making demands on the government.

But Abdullah called the agreement a "historic achievement" and congratulated the Somali delegation.

The pact will "save Somalia from the tragedy it has suffered from for many years," he said. "I am optimistic that you will be able to turn this agreement into a dawn for a new era that carries security and prosperity for the sons of brotherly Somalia."

Somali President Abdullahi Yusuf asked in a speech that an Arab and African force under U.N. leadership be sent to his country to "take over the responsibility of maintaining peace and security in Somalia."

"With God's help and the efforts of the Somali people, we will overcome all difficulties to turn Somalia into a beautiful country, strong against terrorism," he said.

However, serious obstacles remain for the country. Soon after the Mogadishu conference ended, several groups, including an Islamic faction that controlled the Somali capital until being ousted by Ethiopian troops late last year, formed an opposition alliance to challenge the government.

Somalia has not had a functioning government since 1991, when warlords united to overthrow dictator Mohamed Siad Barre and then turned on each other.

Fighting this year has decimated the capital, already one of the most violent and gun-infested cities in the world. Thousands of Somalis have been killed, and a fifth of Mogadishu's 2 million residents have fled.



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