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Last Updated: Thursday, 2 September 2004, 18:56 GMT 19:56 UK
Somalia's rocky road to peace
By Yusuf Garaad
BBC Somali section editor

Somalia's new parliament held its inaugural meeting on Thursday - a first step towards bringing a stable government back to the country after 13 years of anarchy.
Delegates being sworn in at a ceremony in Nairobi
New MPs will have to come up with new laws and resolve disputes

The parliament was formed after more than 20 months of talks, involving several hundred delegates from the Somali warring factions and political groups.

Many Somalis have welcomed the formation of the parliament, which includes the leaders of all the major armed factions in Somalia.

They are hoping that it will lead to the election of a president and the subsequent formation of a government.

This could be achieved in the next few weeks.

Rival militia

However, the real test is whether it will be a government in name only or whether it will able to restore the law and order that Somalia has been lacking since early 1991, when the Somali government of the late military ruler Mohamed Siad Barre collapsed.

The Somali capital, Mogadishu, is controlled by opposing armed groups.

The seaport and the airport are not functioning. They are occupied by militiamen belonging to rival groups.

The presidential palace and the national radio station are run by another faction.

Most of the government buildings are destroyed and all archives and official documents are looted.

Militiamen run checkpoints on the main roads in and out of the capital - and every driver has to pay to cross them.

All businesses have their own armed guards.

This is just a fraction of the work on security awaiting the Somali government.

No formal education

On the reconciliation front, on top of land disputes over private properties and farms looted during the civil war, the case of the breakaway Republic of Somaliland is another complication.

It is an authority established in the northern regions of Somalia after the collapse of the central government.

Private Somali militia training
The Somali capital is controlled by rival militia
No state has recognised the self-proclaimed independence of Somaliland. Nevertheless, its leaders stayed away from peace talks and it is waiting for the new Somali government to negotiate a settlement.

It will not be easy for a parliament whose members include people who lack formal education and others with human rights records questioned both inside and outside Somalia. It will be their task to come up with new laws and resolve ongoing disputes.

Despite the failures and shortcomings of past reconciliation conferences, some analysts are saying that there are reasons to be optimistic.

The armed faction leaders who used to be an obstacle to peace are now all on board, and the neighbouring countries that used to support rival factions are showing solidarity in backing this process.

A lot will depend on the political and financial support that the government gets from the international community, but a lot more will depend upon the way Somalis themselves work together to run their own affairs.


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