Thursday, March 27, 2003

Somalia: Rocky Road to Peace
NEW YORK, 28 MARCH 2003--Peace talks involving hundreds of warlords are taking place for the 14th time since the collapse of the Somali state in 1991. The talks in Nairobi, Kenya, aimed at re-establishing a central government in the factionalized nation, have been dragging on for five months with little progress to date. Yet the current attempt at peace has generated more hope for a settlement than any of its predecessors, because of one significant factor: With Somalia now labeled as one of the world’s most likely havens for terrorists, the United States is taking an active interest.

The talks, which began in October 2002, have been troubled from the start. At the outset, hundreds showed up without invitations, and hotels threatened to evict delegates over unpaid bills. The talks themselves have been characterized as chaotic, with delegates criticized for turning the forum into a talking shop. Changing the venue from the Kenyan resort area of Eldoret to a college compound outside Nairobi didn’t help matters, as shouting matches, fistfights, and walkouts continued. While notorious Mogadishu warlords such as Musa Sudi Yalahow and Mohamed Qanyare Afrah boycotted the talks, others, frustrated by the conference’s slow progress, returned to Somalia. Meanwhile, interim agreements to cease hostilities have been violated repeatedly.

“The talks have been characterized by...the delegates' inability to agree on almost everything,” commented Adan Mohamed of Nairobi’s independent Daily Nation (March 7). Such a lack of cooperation cast a poor light on delegates’ commitment, wrote Mohamed. “There must be a lot of reasons why there is no progress, the obvious one being that there is actually no talking, just accusations, demands, stonewalling, and unwillingness on the part of most factions.” MORE

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