KHARTOUM, Sudan (AP) – Peace talks between the Somali government and a faction that wants to create an Islamic state collapsed Wednesday in Sudan’s capital, an Arab League official said.

The latest round of negotiations never really got off the ground. Delegates arrived late for the start of talks Monday in Khartoum, and then remained holed up in their hotel rooms refusing to negotiate all day Tuesday, Sudan’s official news agency reported.

The Arab League, currently headed by Sudan, decided Wednesday to indefinitely postpone further efforts to get the two sides to communicate.

“After long consultations with the two sides and the international community, it was decided that the meeting should be postponed and that (the talks) be held as soon as possible after more meticulous preparations,” said Samir Hosny, who heads the African section of the Cairo-based Arab League.

“We did not set a date or venue for any upcoming meetings, but the sooner the meetings take place the better – in a week or two,” he told reporters.

The Islamic Courts faction, which controls the Somali capital of Mogadishu and most of the south of the country, is seeking to impose an Islamic state. The internationally recognized interim government lacks the force to assert its authority beyond Baidoa – the only town it controls.

U.N. officials have said thousands of Ethiopian soldiers are defending Baidoa, but Ethiopia says it has only several hundred “military trainers” in Somalia to provide expertise to the interim government.

Sudan’s news agency reported Tuesday that the Islamic Courts were boycotting this week’s peace talks because of the Ethiopian troops.

“The delegation of the Islamic Courts is still insisting that Ethiopian forces pull out of Somalia before they sit down with the government delegation for talks,” Sudanese Foreign Ministry spokesman Ali Al Sadeq was quoted as saying.

Hosny said neither party was to blame for the collapse of the talks, and expressed hope that both sides would return to the negotiating table. He said the decision to call off the talks was reached after the Arab League’s consultations with both sides, as well as with the United Nations, the African Union and a number of unspecified European countries.

“Let us hope that this step does not reflect negatively on the situation on the ground,” Hosny said.

There has been no sign of reconciliation on the ground in Somalia.

Somalia has not had an effective government since 1991 when warlords overthrew dictator Mohamed Siad Barre and then turned on one another, plunging the country into anarchy.

The interim government was formed in 2004 with U.N. help in the hope of restoring order after years of bloodshed.

Peace talks began in Khartoum in June when the two sides agreed on a formula for mutual recognition. A second session was held in the city on Sept. 2-3 when the two sides signed an agreement to form a unified national army.

This round of talks would have been the first in eight weeks.


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