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IMF, World Bank Somalia Talks

The International Monetary Fund and World Bank have held talks with representatives of Somalia for the first time in 10 years, encouraged by signs of stability in the East African nation, an official said Friday.

``It seems the security situation in some areas is improving, and there is generally more economic activity,'' Milan Zavadjil, division chief of the IMF's Middle Eastern department told The Associated Press in Nairobi, where the talks took place.

``We felt the fund should send a mission to discuss economic development and the situation in all of Somalia,'' he said.

He underlined that it was purely a fact-finding mission. Somalia has had no central government since 1991, when opposition leaders joined forces to oust dictator Mohamed Siad Barre.

They then turned on each other, and the country disintegrated into warring fiefdoms. In recent years, violence has subdued in many parts of the country, particularly the north.

Development, driven by entrepreneurial Somali businessmen, has taken off. The country now has an efficient mobile phone service, e-mail in some of its towns and cities, independent television and FM radio stations and privately owned air companies.

For the first time since 1991, Somalis have been celebrating their independence from Italian and British colonial rule and the formation of the united Somali Republic on July 1, 1960.

But a decade of conflict has taken its toll on the country of an estimated 6 to 8 million people.

Zavadjil said overall economic activity was lower than the pre-1991 years, and there were ``virtually no government services.

'' There are no up-to-date economic figures for the country. The week-long talks in the Kenyan capital involved businessmen from the Somali capital, Mogadishu, as well as officials from the self-styled breakaway ``republic'' of Somaliland and ``state'' of Puntland.

The World Bank and IMF provide loans for development and financial restucturing.

But even if the talks are an encouraging sign for Somalis, nothing substantive can happen until Somalia has some form of internationally recognized national government. T

he northern regions of Somaliland and Puntland have achieved relative stability and created their own institutions, but the ``statelets'' are not internationally recognized.

``The talks are significant, but nothing is going to come about today,'' said Dr. S. Nair, a member of the United Nations Development Program team responsible for Somalia.

``It's a process, and it has to be seen in this respect.'' A Somali peace conference going on in neighboring Djibouti since May 2 could result in a transitional parliament that would chose a Somali administration.

The 13th attempt to achieve peace since 1991, the conference is hailed by many Somalis as their chance to end a decade of violence and clan-based militia rule.

The conference is the first to include traditional leaders, members of civic society and religious leaders.

But the process poses a threat to clan-based faction leaders who have ruled by the gun, raising concerns that the warlords, most of whom have refused to attend the conference, will fight any transitional body.

The leaders of Somaliland and Puntland have also refused to take part in the conference.

``We in Somaliland want our brothers to settle their problems, then we can get together and discuss our problems. But first they have to have peace between the clans in the south,'' said Abdul Dualeh Mohamoud, governor of the Bank of Somaliland.

Puntland says it fears ``the net result of the whole peace process may be to destabilize and rekindle war in the only truly peaceful parts.''



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