NAIROBI, 15 Sep 2003 - Two of four prominent Somali leaders who had walked out of a peace conference currently being held at Mbagathi, on the outskirts of the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, have returned to the talks while the others have sent representatives.
The president of the Transitional National Government (TNG), Abdiqassim Salad Hassan, and the leader of the Juba Valley Alliance, Col Bare Hiirale, returned to Nairobi on Sunday night. Representatives of Mogadishu-based faction leader Muse Sudi Yalahow and Muhammad Ibrahim Habsade of the Rahanweyn Resistance Army (RRA) have also arrived in the Kenyan capital.
The return of the leaders was "very significant and a moral boost for the talks", said James Kiboi, liaison officer of the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) technical committee, which is steering the talks. "The talks will now go into high gear," he added.
Abdirahman Ibi, TNG information minister, told IRIN on Monday that Yalahow and Usman Ato had been delayed due to "technical difficulties", but were expected to arrive in the next two days.
Ibi said the four leaders, who met last week in Mogadishu, had discussed ways of unifying their position at the talks. They agreed on "a common approach and platform" at Mbagathi, and set up a committee to harmonise negotations and to take "joint decisions".
"We are cautiously optimistic and hopeful that a corner has been turned and the talks will produce results worthy of the Somali people," Ibi said.
The IGAD-sponsored talks began in October 2002 in the western Kenyan town of Eldoret, but were moved to Nairobi in February this year. The talks have been dogged by wrangles over issues such as an interim charter [draft constitution], the number of participants in the talks and the selection of future parliamentarians.