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Somali warlords told to choose peace or isolation

Clan leaders from across Somalia trying to end nine years of anarchy are warning the nation's warlords that they will simply be left out unless they join the bid to make peace and form a government soon.

The idea of isolating the warlords would have been absurd only two years ago but, with most Somalis eager for an end to nine years of chaos and civil war, the militia leaders are now being challenged within their own clans.

A two-month-old peace conference under way in neighbouring Djibouti has brought together almost 1,000 delegates from almost all of Somalia's clans.

As they move towards a peace deal for the bitterly divided country, delegates said they would offer the warlords no privileges or guarantees that they will lead a new government. Organisers hope delegates will agree on an interim government and national assembly in the next 10 days.

The peace conference in Arta opened on May 2. Delegates are currently discussing a new constitution for a three-year interim period, giving substantial powers to regional, clan-based administrations and finally ending nearly a decade of anarchy and militia rule.

ENDING CHAOS?

Somalia has been without central government since the ouster of former dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991 and the power vacuum has been filled by militia leaders fighting to expand their personal fiefdoms. U.S.-led international peacekeeping troops were deployed to Somalia in 1992 to try to restore order, but they left after suffering heavy casualties in fighting with militia groups.

Some of the most prominent warlords have so far boycotted the peace talks, raising fears that their militias will block any new government from taking office or push the country into a new round of civil war.

Clan leaders have repeatedly asked the armed factions to join the meeting in Arta, a mountain resort near Djibouti's Red Sea coast, but insist they will no longer be dictated to by the men of violence.

"I don't see any danger from them. Those who are not present here no longer have the support of their own people," said conference chairman Hassan Abshire Farah, a former mayor of the Somali capital Mogadishu.

"Five years ago, the warlords were leading the people because the country was divided between clans and everyone was fighting. But now the people are tired of war, and they want a government."

WARLORDS WEAKER THAN EVER

Some warlords were attending the conference, most notably Ali Mahdi Mohamed, whose forces have controlled north Mogadishu for most of the period since 1991. Ali Mahdi says the militia leaders -- including himself -- are weaker than ever and may no longer be able to call on their people to launch new attacks against other clans.

"They will not be able to confront the new government," he said. Their guns and "technicals" -- battle wagons mounted with machineguns -- belong to the clans rather than the warlords.

Once clan support for fighting disappears, Ali Mahdi said, so do the guns. "Militarily, they will lose and politically they will be isolated," he told Reuters.

Boycotting the conference were leaders of two northern regions -- Mohamed Ibrahim Egal, president of the self-declared state of Somaliland, and Colonel Abdullahi Yusuf of the regional administration of Puntland.

Both fear that delegates here will try to install a government that will dominate Somaliland and Puntland, the only two regions that have managed to restore peace and an effective administration in recent years.

Somaliland, a former British protectorate, has not been recognised internationally as an independent state but many diplomats believe that Egal is key to a lasting peace deal.

Senior clan leaders from both Somaliland and Puntland have attended the conference. They have called on their leaders to join the process, saying a new central government would give extensive local powers to both regions.

 

 


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