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Elders, Officials Meet in Somalia

Elders and local officials held talks Monday in a bid to end four days of sporadic gun battles and looting around the former presidential residence in the capital, Mogadishu.

The fighting erupted between militiamen formerly in league with warlord Hussein Mohamed Aidid and men still loyal to him, officials said. The mutineers were complaining of a lack of pay, food and medical care, according to the independent newspaper Qaran.

Late Sunday, heavy machine gun and assault rifle exchanges were heard close to the residence, which Aidid has taken over.

Witnesses said nearby buildings had been damaged. It was unclear whether Aidid was in the residence, or if there had been casualties.

Four days ago, the disgruntled militiamen looted the building and made off with furniture, doors, windows and ammunition.

Meanwhile, Mogadishu residents said the security situation in the capital was deteriorating, with an increase in carjackings, burglaries and muggings.

Four people have been killed and at least seven others injured in crime-related incidents over the last two days.

Residents blamed the situation on the growing number of armed militiamen roaming the streets.

The militiamen have been paid by faction leaders, who now see their influence waning as Somalis grow optimistic about peace talks in neighboring Djibouti.

Somalia has had no central government since 1991 opposition politicians joined forces to oust President Mohamed Siad Barre.

They then turned on each other, carving the country into militia-controlled fiefdoms. But if the peace talks succeed, the warlords could find their power eroded.

An initiative, proposed by Djibouti President Ismael Omar Guelleh, calls on the warlords to turn their factions into political parties, commit to a complete and verifiable disarmament, submit to the primacy of law and respect the creation of a police force.

A number of faction leaders, including Aidid, have refused to participate in the talks. But hundreds of religious leaders, politicians and civilians have attended peace conference, which has been ongoing since May 2.



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