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Somalis ready to ditch the warlords for a working government

You can taste the mood among the spice stalls of the Bakara Market and hear it over the hum of the air-conditioning in the businessman's office. You can feel it in the cellblock of the Islamic court and you can smell it in the stench of the refugee camps.

With one voice the people of Somalia are calling for an end to war and a return to government. They want the killing to stop and they want the militiamen off the street. "The time is right," Ahmed Adan, a businessman, said. "After a decade of hate and division we are tired of war. We want to put an end to this nightmare. "

So when thousands of Somali's took to the streets of Mogadishu last week to express their support for the peace conference in neighbouring Djibouti, it was a demonstration of collective relief that the nightmare might soon be coming to an end.

The Djibouti talks appear to be on track to create a government, but public relief may not be enough to see any agreement through. All 12 previous attempts at putting back together the pieces of Somalia have failed, and it will take more than the optimism of Somali people to make the 13th the lucky one. Although the opposing power groups all want to see a government establishe

d, they want it for different reasons. Businessmen want a laissez-faire government that will allow business to prosper. Religious leaders seek an Islamic government and the imposition of sharia law. Refugees want a government that will provide water, food and basic services. The young militiaman just wants to be able to go to school.

When Marxist dictator Siad Barre fled the country in 1991, Somalia fell into the hands of warring clan-based militias fighting one another to fill the political void. Somalia's cities were reduced to rubble and millions of people were driven from their homes. Millions more were killed or died of famine. The UN, backed by the US, tried to intervene and restore order, but it failed and withdrew in 1994. Sheikh Hassan Dahir, sitting quietly behind his mahogany desk while his minions bustled around him, said: "We support the Djibouti conference 100%.

People need order and discipline in their lives. " He said that he would support a secular government, but remained certain that the Islamic courts which he set up would keep their power under a new government. But according to the faction leader Hussein Aidid this is the last thing Somalia needs. "Of course I support a government, but it must exclude the Islamic courts," he said.

"They are financed by the Taliban and Osama bin Laden." He fancies a government with himself at the helm, as do the other warlords whose militias have destroyed this once beautiful city. But nobody is paying much attention to the warlords these days.

Mr Aidid and his supporters are clinging to a lost ideal, reluctant to accept that the tide of Somali politics has turned against him and the other warlords of Mogadishu. Mr Adan and his business partners returned from exile in Canada last year. They gave up comfortable lives and well-paid jobs and have invested more than a million dollars in Somalia's first independent television and radio station.

"We felt the time was right to come back and invest in the future of Mogadishu," Mr Adan said. "Somali's are tired of war and everybody wants peace. " But every now and then the conversation drops off in the face of a fierce gun battle which is taking place on the street just outside their offices - a timely reminder that it is too soon to write off what remains of the warlords' power and, more importantly, their arsenals of weapons.

Around the time that Mr Adan returned from Canada, Abdi Sabrie was putting the finishing touches to a pasta factory he had built in Mogadishu's old industrial area. Mr Sabrie has grown rich from the absence of bureaucracy but is tired of having to pay protection money for his security, tired of having to generate his own electricity and find his own water. Even the militiamen now say they want to see the restoration of government.

Mohamed Farah sat slumped in the tattered armchair with a Kalashnikov rifle, safety off, lying across his knees. Nicknamed "Five Bullets" for the number of times he's been shot, he monotonously chewed the tight bundle of khat stuffed inside his cheek. "I don't want to fight anymore," he said.

"I'd rather go to school. " But for the vast majority of Somali's there are no ifs or buts, us or them. They have nothing to lose and any form of government would suit them. Spread right across Mogadishu wherever the space will allow, makeshift refugee camps have sprung up, comprising thousands of dome shaped huts hastily erected with just a few feet separating one from the next.

Fadumo Abdukadir has lived with her eight children in one such camp for the last eight years. "Take a look around you," she said pointing towards the poverty of her surroundings. "We have no food, no medicine and no hope. We don't care what kind of government we get. We just want help."


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