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Last Updated:  Friday, 21 February, 2003, 14:02 GMT
Anger over Somali talks move

The controversial relocation of the National Reconciliation Conference for Somalia from the Kenyan town of Eldoret to Nairobi led this week to the airing of many grievances and complaints in various African media outlets.

Kenya's special envoy to Somalia, Bethwell Kiplagat, told The East African that the relocation was necessary to cap the escalating costs of the talks.

"Initially, 400 delegates were invited but more than 1,000 turned up.. The budget was blown out of the ceiling."

There is too much distrust, too much ill will, too much meaningless talk, and no visible end result
M M Afrah in Banadir

Mr Kiplagat said the numbers were being cut to a more manageable 360.

It is a move which will undoubtedly please some commentators.

Writing in the Canada-based Somali paper Banadir, M. M. Afrah said the talks have been characterised by "the stench of corruption, embezzlement and scandal.. backroom deals and people on the take".

"There is too much distrust, too much ill will, too much meaningless talk, and no visible end result."

Unpaid bills

Moving hundreds of people nearly 200 miles to Nairobi did not prove easy however.

The East African reported that Eldoret bus and coach firms blocked the mass decamp because of unpaid bills. Only a Kenyan Government undertaking to meet their costs saved the situation, the paper said.

The London-registered Xog-Ogaal paper said the next cause of bad feeling was the list of permitted delegates.

"Some clan representatives have threatened to pull out of the talks if they sight any irregularities in the list of their representatives."

Lists and accommodation

Ayaamaha said the interim Somali government initially refused to leave Eldoret because it was "unhappy with the way the list of delegates had been prepared, which allotted the government 49 members".

Lack of adherence to the [ceasefire] agreement is likely to reduce the talks into a shadow boxing affair


Interim Somali government

Having relented and agreed to move, the various delegations continued to complain, particularly as they had to exchange hotel rooms for dormitory accommodation in the Kenya College of Communication Technology.

The East African Standard said the Somali interim government boycotted the opening session, accusing the regional body Igad of failing to enforce the terms of a cease-fire agreement.

"Lack of adherence to the agreement is likely to reduce the talks into a shadow boxing affair."

The government accused Igad of "colluding with other stakeholders to hijack and slow down the peace process".

Ensuring inclusivity

Other groups were also displeased. Ayaamaha reported that the Jubba Valley Alliance and the Somali National Front were considering a boycott owing to reduced numbers.

"Igad gave us a number that we don't deserve, and we shall not agree", said Isaq Hasan Behe of the SNF.

These are grievances that Bethwell Kiplagat knows must be addressed.

Many female delegates were complaining that the accommodation was such that men and women were forced to share bathroom facilities
UN IRIN

"In my experience of dealing with conflicts in Africa, one of the fundamental things is to ensure inclusivity of all interested parties because if you leave any out, they will jeopardise the process", he told The East African.

Meanwhile, Somalia's Radio Banaadir reported that the delegates were facing "harsh conditions".

The UN Integrated Regional Information Networks was more specific.

"Many female delegates were complaining that the accommodation was such that men and women were forced to share bathroom facilities. 'It is extremely embarrassing for us to have to queue with men to use the bathrooms,' one woman said."

Sense of perspective

As the complaints rumbled on, the opposition paper Kenya Times lost its patience with the conference and appealed for a sense of perspective.

"The uppermost question among the international community, observers, and the delegates themselves must still be: will it end the 12-year-long armed conflict in that seemingly god-forsaken country in the Horn of Africa?"

BBC Monitoring, based in Caversham in southern England, selects and translates information from radio, television, press, news agencies and the Internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages.





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SEE ALSO:
Country profile: Somalia
18 Feb 03 |  Country profiles


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