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Last Updated: Thursday, 12 May 2005, 12:02 GMT 13:02 UK
Somali peace under threat
Somali woman in Kenya
Most Somalis are desperate for peace, whoever their leader is
Somalia's peace process is on the brink of collapse just seven months after the jubilation which greeted the election of President Abdullahi Yusuf.

A third of the members of the transitional parliament which chose him have moved to the capital, Mogadishu, leaving him and his supporters in exile in Kenya.

Those left behind have meanwhile overwhelmingly backed two controversial measures which divide Somali leaders - how to go back to Somalia and whether foreign peacekeepers are needed to ensure the safety of the returning government.

There are fears that after two years of relative peace while the different faction leaders talked peace in Kenya, fighting could break out.

A group of warlords who control the capital, Mogadishu, and who are supposedly part of Mr Yusuf's cabinet, have accused Ethiopia of giving weapons and troops to people close to Mr Yusuf, so he can mount an attack on Baidoa. Ethiopia has strongly denied the allegations.


Mr Yusuf says that Mogadishu is too dangerous and so the government should relocate first to Baidoa, and another town Jowhar.

But Baidoa is controlled by warlord Mohammed Habsade, who opposes these plans.

Both sides are reported to be massing weapons, with pro-Yusuf forces allegedly in Hudur, 100km north of Baidoa and the same distance from the Ethiopian border.

"The disagreement within the government has now become a split that will be very difficult to repair," says BBC Somali service editor Yusuf Omar Garad.

"It is very likely that the government will relocate to two different cities, which will formalise the split."

Parliamentary speaker Sherif Hassan refused to call the meeting in which MPs voted to relocate to Baidoa and Jowhar until Mogadishu is considered safe enough.

He is supported by the Mogadishu warlords and is likely to join them in the capital, along with more MPs.

At the heart of the matter is Somalia's age-old clan divisions and the 14 years of bitter fighting to control the country.

Regional rivalries

Mr Yusuf is a Darod, with his power-base in the north of the country and little backing in Mogadishu, where the Hawiyes dominate.

And more Somalis have stopped supporting him after reports that he was close to Ethiopia.

Facts and figures about life in Somalia

Ethiopia defeated Somalia's attempts to invade and annexe its Somali-speaking region in 1977.

During the 14 years of anarchy in Somalia, Ethiopia has been accused of backing rival warlords in order to keep its neighbour weak and so retain regional pre-eminence.

The role of Ethiopia is therefore particularly controversial in any peacekeeping force.

While Mr Yusuf was happy for Ethiopia to contribute troops, this was strongly opposed in Mogadishu and the first wave of any peace force will be made up of Sudanese and Ugandan troops.

However, Ethiopia may still be asked to contribute "in an emergency" and could also help with training. Some Somalis oppose even this involvement of their traditional enemy.

But no country will be keen to send troops to Somalia if they feel there is no peace to keep.


If fighting does break out, Mr Yusuf would be in a weak position - unless he relies on Ethiopian force.

The only major town under the control of one of his supporters is Jowhar.

One Mogadishu warlord - Hussein Aideed - is backing the president but his forces are vastly outnumbered by those of Mohammed Qanyare Affra, Osman Ali Atto and Muse Sudi Yalahow, who after years of fighting each other, have agreed to merge their militiamen into a single force.

Mogadishu street scene
President Yusuf does not feel safe in Mogadishu
So is war inevitable?

The best chance of peace would probably come from strong pressure from donors and regional leaders.

When the negotiations which led to Mr Yusuf's election became fraught, donors threatened sanctions, such as an assets freeze, a travel ban and even prosecution for war crimes against those who threatened to cause trouble.

If it so wished, Ethiopia may also be able to persuade Mr Yusuf to return to the negotiating table and seek a compromise with the warlords.

After so many years of bloodshed, many ordinary Somalis do not really care who their leader is, so long as he can provide them with enough security for them to start rebuilding their shattered lives.

Even this basic wish looks set to remain unfulfilled for some time to come.


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