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Monday, 24 July, 2000, 18:39 GMT 19:39 UK
Government-in-exile for Somalia?
Somali guerillas
Somalia has been gripped by civil war for nearly 10 years
The Djibouti peace conference for Somalia is ready to establish a new government for the war-torn country.

Somalia has been without a central government for nearly 10 years, and armed faction leaders (warlords) wield power in much of the country.

Nearly 2,000 delegates meeting in Arta, in eastern Djibouti, have worked out a power-sharing arrangement and a national constitution to see Somalia through a three-year transitional period.

The process begins with the election of members of parliament and a president.

The elected president will have powers to appoint a prime minister who will then form a government.

Resistance

The current meeting, the 13th peace effort for Somalia, was initiated by Djibouti's President Ismael Omar Guelleh under the aegis of the Inter Governmental Authority for Development (IGAD).

Djibouti President, Ismael Omar Guelleh
President Guelleh: the man behind the conference
But this latest attempt, which began on 2 May this year, has had its share of problems.

It faced stiff resistance from Mohammed Egal's self-declared republic of Somaliland (the north of the country), the president of the regional government of Puntland (the north-east), and other factional leaders such as Hussein Mohammed Aideed, and Osman Ali Atto.

However, Somalis at home and abroad, apparently tired of the past ruthless 10 years, have demonstrated their support for the Djibouti initiative which aims at building peace from the grassroots.

For instance, there were huge demonstrations in the Somali capital, Mogadishu, against Egypt when it emerged that an Egyptian official had talked the warlords into cancelling their trips to the conference.

Footing the bill

President Guelleh himself has publicly claimed international support which had been lacking in the previous attempts to reconcile Somalis.

Hussein Mohammed Aideed
Aideed: Among factional leaders left out in the cold
His peace initiative was endorsed by the European Union, the United Nations, the US and the Arab League countries who are also footing the bill.

Yusuf Garaad Omar, editor of the Somali section of the BBC World Service, says this has given the conference the much needed credibility and impetus to push for a UN recognised government-in-exile.

There is also a general consensus that the conference participants - who include clan chiefs, religious leaders, businessmen, intellectuals and even artists - enjoy the people's support.

Fears

A number of warring factions are also attending the Arta talks. Key among them is the leader of Somali Salvation Alliance, Ali Mahdi, who was elected president after the collapse of the state in early 1991.

But his government had hardly taken office before internecine clan war erupted.

Fears abound that the Djibouti-formulated government will be faced with formidable obstacles before it can settle down to restore a semblance of civilised rule in Somalia.
former Somali leader, the late Siad Barre
Late dictator Siad Barre: His followers have made a comeback

A sizeable number of delegates at the conference and even prospective presidential candidates were key figures in the former dictatorial regime of the late Siad Barre.

It is also not clear just how the heavily armed factional leaders will stand by and watch the Djibouti-bred government seize power from them.

But their influence has drastically waned, their authority superceded by civil organisations.

Businessmen who had been bankrolling some of the factions have abandoned them in favour of peace.

War crimes

Given the heavy presence of factional leaders all over Mogadishu, the conference has decided to shift the headquarters of the new government to Baidoa.

Somalis along a street in Baidoa
New government headed for Baidoa
Authority would only return to Mogadishu "once law and order is restored".

Analysts suggest that some warlords and faction leaders who oppose the peace conference could be indicted for war crimes.

In the meantime, the warlords could have their assets abroad frozen and their movements out of Somalia seriously curtailed.

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See also:

24 Jul 00 | Africa
Somali peace talks 'sabotaged'
17 Nov 99 | Africa
The boring life of a warlord
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