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East Africa leaders meet on terror

KHARTOUM, Sudan -- Heads of state from seven East African countries are meeting to discuss regional conflicts and frame a joint initiative against terrorism.

The move is being watched closely in Washington and London as two of the countries -- Somalia and the Sudan -- are known to have been a haven in the past for followers of Osama bin Laden.

The others sending leaders to the two-day Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) regional summit in Khartoum are Uganda, Kenya, Ethiopia, Eritrea and Djibouti.

Somalis fear becoming next U.S. target 

On Wednesday a pre-summit meeting of East African foreign ministers approved a Sudanese proposal calling for an international conference on terrorism.

The proposal for the "identification of terrorism" and fighting it "within international legitimacy" was being discussed on Thursday by national leaders including Kenya's President Daniel Arap Moi and the head of Somalia's transitional government (TNG), Abdulkassim Salat Hassan.

Sudan is on the list of nations accused by the U.S. of being "state sponsors of terrorism" though it has been cooperating with Washington over intelligence on bin Laden's al Qaeda network.

A pharmaceutical factory in Somalia was targeted by U.S. cruise missiles four years ago on suspicion of being a chemical weapons plant controlled by bin Laden.

Somalia's fledgling government accused Ethiopia at the summit on Thursday of blocking attempts to further a reconciliation process for the splintered country.

Information Minister Zakaria Mohamud Abdi told Reuters that Ethiopia had exploited the September 11 attacks on the U.S. to intensify its meddling in Somalia.

This it was doing, he said, by sponsoring warlords who had adopted the war on terror as their latest pretext to fight the TNG.

Regional experts told Reuters that the warlords hoped that accusing Somalia's transitional government of supporting terrorists will convince Washington to intervene on their behalf.

"The TNG... is the light for Somali people at the end of the tunnel, Ethiopia wants to destroy that small candle, claiming that the government has links with terrorism," Zakaria said.

Washington fears that extremists may have used the lawlessness in much of Somalia to cloak their activities, and has warned that the country might become a target for some form of operation in its campaign against terror.

Somalia's transitional government says there are no terrorist bases to target in the country.

The TNG signed a peace accord with some opposition factions in Kenya late last month. Kenyan President Daniel arap Moi hopes to win backing for the plan in Khartoum, but several warlords rejected the deal, casting doubt on its potential to succeed.

"We have inherited ashes," Zakaria said. "Unless we get real commitment from the international community it will be very difficult for us."

Arab League Secretary General Amr Mussa, Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Maher, a representative from the Libyan government and the Organization of Islamic Conference are attending the summit for the first time.

Others at the gathering include a representative of the United Nations and the Organization of African Unity.




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