Wed, Feb 07, 2007 - Page 6 News List

Somali leaders take a shot at reconciliation

COME TOGETHER Sixteen years after warlords toppled the dictator and then sank the country into chaos, leaders in Mogadishu are meeting in hopes of bringing security

AP , MOGADISHU

The government has begun a weeklong meeting with an array of leaders in Mogadishu, which has seen spiraling violence over the past month, as part of promised efforts to reconcile Somalis after 16 years of conflict.

The capital and much of southern Somalia has borne the brunt of the country's conflict that began in 1991 when clan-based warlords toppled dictator Mohamed Siad Barre and then turned on one another, sinking the Horn of Africa country of 7 million people into chaos.

Mogadishu also saw the heaviest fighting when government forces -- backed by Ethiopian troops, warplanes and tanks -- ousted the country's Islamic movement from its southern Somalia strongholds that included the capital.

"I hope it will be the beginning of reconciliation among the people of Mogadishu, which is the mirror of all of Somalia and I hope if a solution is found here, other areas will be peaceful," Prime Minister Ali Mohamed Gedi told the meeting on Monday in comments broadcast on local radio.

Ismail Moalim Musse, chairman of the government-appointed national reconciliation commission, said that the elders, traditional chiefs, representatives of private aid and development groups will discuss their roles in restoring security in the capital and awareness programs on peace and security.

Musse declined to comment on whether warlords who had ruled Mogadishu for most of the last 16 years had been invited to the meeting. The major Mogadishu warlords in recent weeks handed over weapons and equipment and ordered their militias to camps where they are to be trained and join the national army.

The commission was formed in 2005 but has done little work, partly because the government was until recently unable to assert its authority beyond the southern town of Baidoa.

The two-year-old transitional government only managed to establish itself in the capital in December. The ousted Islamic movement, which still has strong support in Mogadishu, has vowed to wage an Iraq-style insurgency and clan rivalries also are a challenge for the government.

Ethiopia has said it cannot afford to keep its forces long in Somalia and has begun pulling out as the African Union (AU) presses ahead with preparations for a peacekeeping mission to Somalia. So far, the AU has received only half the 8,000 peacekeepers it believes is needed, but could start an initial deployment soon.

Three battalions of peacekeepers from Uganda and Nigeria are ready to be deployed in Somalia and will be airlifted in as soon as possible, a senior AU official said last week.

A leader of the Islamic movement that was ousted last month has said that a proposed peacekeeping force would not bring peace to Somalia.

The Islamic movement was credited with restoring order in areas of southern Somalia it controlled, but some Somalis chafed at its fundamentalist version of Islam and the US has accused it of harboring al-Qaeda suspects.

The transitional government was formed in 2004 with UN help. It has struggled to assert authority and heal clan rifts and was confined to Baidoa until Ethiopian troops arrived to help oust the Islamic movement.

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