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Thursday, February 15, 2007

Coleman meets top US diplomat for Africa to discuss Somalia and Oromo issues

During meeting with Assistant Secretary of State Jendayi Frazer, Senator pushes for Special Envoy to Somalia and submits a letter outlining human rights abuses against the Oromo refugees

February 13th, 2007 - Washington, D.C. - Washington, D.C.—Continuing his push toward establishing a comprehensive U.S. strategy to bring peace and stability to Somalia, Senator Norm Coleman yesterday met with Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Jendayi Frazer to discuss U.S. diplomatic efforts concerning Somalia. Senator Coleman, following up on his comments during hearings last week with Secretary Rice and Assistant Secretary Frazer, pressed for the appointment of a Special Envoy to Somalia. He also raised alleged human rights abuses suffered by the Oromo refugee population in Somalia at the hands of the Ethiopian military. During the meeting, Senator Coleman presented to Secretary Frazer a letter outlining his concerns over the allegations of abuse that were brought to the Senator’s attention by the Oromo American Citizen Council of Minnesota. The Senator also extended an invitation to Assistant Secretary Frazer to travel to Minnesota to engage the Somali diaspora community in the national reconciliation process that is underway in Somalia.

“With Minnesota being home to the largest community of Somalis in America, I feel a strong sense of responsibility to be an advocate for stability in Somalia,” said Coleman. “It is a region of the world that has gone largely ignored for many years, and yet we have vital national security interests at stake in the country. Minnesota is also the home to a substantial Oromo community, many of whom left Ethiopia due to persecution and who have long raised their human rights concerns with me. It was disheartening to hear that the abuse faced by the Oromo in Ethiopia now exists in Somalia too, with the presence of the Ethiopian military. I am concerned about allegations of abuses like arbitrary detention and harassment of Oromo refugees. I expressed my view to the Assistant Secretary that it is up to the United States and other countries to use our influence to ensure that human rights are respected by the Ethiopian military.”

Senator Coleman last week joined Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI) in introducing legislation that would require a comprehensive U.S. strategy to aid the war-torn country, including increased diplomatic engagement as well as financial assistance. The legislation also includes a provision continuously advocated by Senator Coleman establishing a Special Envoy for Somalia to coordinate U.S. diplomacy as well as elevate the importance of the issue. Coleman and Feingold have previously worked on Somalia legislation that was attached to last year’s Department of Defense Authorization bill.

“As political strife and lack of economic opportunity continue to exacerbate the instability in Somalia, we need to develop a comprehensive strategy to deal with the struggling country that could otherwise become a haven for terrorists,” said Coleman. “One important piece of this strategy is to have a U.S. diplomatic presence on the ground in Somalia. The U.N. and many of our international partners have had key diplomats visit Somalia, but the U.S. has yet to do so. I think it will be difficult for the U.S. to play a lead role in helping stabilize Somalia if we are unable to send diplomats there. Additionally, in order to make any diplomatic presence effective we will need a Special Envoy to coordinate our policy.”

Coleman had previously pressed for the appointment of a Special Envoy for Somalia last week during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing with witnesses that included Frazer and USAID Assistant Administrator Michael Hess. He reiterated his calls for a Special Envoy at a hearing on the Foreign Affairs budget with Secretary Rice last Thursday. At the hearings, Coleman raised long-standing concerns about U.S. diplomatic capacity to formulate and carry out policy toward Somalia, as well as the level of humanitarian assistance to that country.

Source: Office of Senator Coleman, Feb 13, 2007

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