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Tuesday, 2 May, 2000, 16:41 GMT 17:41 UK
Somali civilians in new peace drive
Somali gunmen
There has been no government since 1991
By the BBC's Jim Corrigal

A national reconciliation conference aimed at restoring peace to Somalia has begun in Djibouti.

Several hundred delegates representing Somali clans, political and armed groups are discussing a peace plan put forward by President Ismael Omar Guelleh of Djibouti, which envisages a transitional government to run Somalia for two years.

Ali Mahdi Mohammed of Somalia
Ali Mahdi Mohammed is the one key faction leader attending the conference
The plan is backed by the international community, but has already been rejected by the main Somali faction leaders, only one of whom - Ali Mahdi Mohammed - is attending.

The northern self-declared Republic of Somaliland is also not attending the conference, but a surprise arrival was the administration from the neighbouring region of Puntland.

Best chance

The 13th Somali peace conference opened with a reading from the Koran, and then heavy rain showered the tent under which the hundreds of delegates and officials had gathered.

The host, President Guelleh of Djibouti made the opening speech at what is, in effect, an open-ended conference.

Somali gunmen
Insecuirity remains a huge problem in Somalia
Regional and United Nations officials were present to underline the heavy international backing.

One important difference from previous Somali peace gatherings is that this time there is involvement from grassroots Somalis - clan elders from different regions and a host of community groups.

This is one reason why most faction - or militia - leaders, like Hossein Aideed and Osman Ali Ato, have stayed away.

But this is the best chance for peace Somalia has had.

If delegates can agree on establishing an administration, it will be the first government the country has had for nine years - since President Mohammed Siad Barre was overthrown, and the country descended into warring regions.

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