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Wednesday, 16 October, 2002, 08:54 GMT 09:54 UK
Somalia peace talks open
Delegates at the conference
The talks have raised hopes of an end to the fighting
Hundreds of delegates have begun talks aimed at bringing peace to Somalia have opened in the town of Eldoret, in western Kenya, according to the French news agency, AFP.

The conference, organised by a regional grouping of east African countries, the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (Igad) brings together the heads of Somali factions, politicians and other community leaders.

Delegates in Eldoret
TNG Prime Minister Hassan Abshir Farah
Muse Sudi Yalahow
Hassan Mohamed Nur Shatigudud
Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed
Several factions say they will not attend but one of the key groups, the Somali Reconstruction and Restoration Council, has said it will send representatives.

The leader of one group, Osman Ali Atto, told the BBC he would be staying away because his faction had been allowed fewer delegates than a rival group.

In his opening address, Kenyan President Daniel arap Moi urged delegates to "heed the cry of their people" for peace.

The BBC's Joseph Warungu in Eldoret says that the organisers hope to stop the fighting and set up and all-inclusive government.

This is Somalia's 16th attempt to hold peace talks. Previous talks have collapsed and Tuesday's conference has already been postponed several times.

Terrorist haven?

The prime minister of the Transitional National Government (TNG), Hassan Abshir Farah, was one of the first to arrive in Eldoret, reports AFP.

But the Associated Press (AP) agency reports that he initially refused to attend the opening ceremony because the Somali flag of a white star on a pale blue background was not flying.

Pro-Osama Bin Laden demonstration in Mogadishu
Bin Laden has some support in Somalia

Foreign diplomats hope the talks will agree to a permanent, decentralised state.

AP reports that the United States has helped finance the talks and has become more interested in Somali affairs after reports that al-Qaeda operatives might flee there from Afghanistan.

Earlier this year, TNG President Abdulkassim Salat Hassan warned the United Nations that his country risked becoming a haven for terrorists if the international community did not help it establish a viable state.

But he promised to support US President George Bush's war on terror.

The talks are expected to last several months, with the first stage lasting about three weeks, reports AP.

Failed state

The TNG was set up in 2000 after months of talks in neighbouring Djibouti but it only controls parts of the capital, Mogadishu, and other patches of territory around the country.

Somalia gunman
Somalia has had 11 years of anarchy

Somalia's last recognised government - of dictator Siad Barre - was overthrown in 1991.

Since then, the country has descended into anarchy, with rival warlords fighting each other.

The TNG accuses Ethiopia of backing some of the warlords and trying to overthrow it.

Ethiopia in turn accuses the TNG of being allied to radical Islamist groups.

Igad organisers say that Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi will attend the talks.

Somali warlord Hussein Aideed talking to Nita Bhalla
"We've learnt from our mistakes"
Joseph Warungu on BBC Network Africa
"The hardest part is yet to come"


Terrorist haven?

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