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Tuesday, 8 August, 2000, 12:03 GMT 13:03 UK
Haggling at the Somali peace talks

Asha Haji Elmi: Keen for women to have a greater role
By East Africa correspondent Cathy Jenkins in Somalia

When the stifling heat in Djibouti finally begins to die towards the early evening, some of the 2,000 delegates taking part in the Somali peace conference gather in the foyer of an international hotel.

Since the conference opened in May, the seafront hotel has become the most important place for delegates to network after a day's discussions and arguments. They discuss, speculate and scheme over the latest developments.

This is the 13th such attempt to try to bring peace to Somalia and end the rule of competing warlords and militiamen since civil war broke out in 1991.

After weeks of haggling, mediators are trying to sort out last minute disputes over the allocation of seats in a transitional national assembly.

According to a charter drawn up by the conference delegates, the 225 seat transitional assembly is being divided along clan lines.

Civil society groups had initially hoped to avoid this, but the man who is chairing the Djibouti conference, Hassan Abshir, said one had to be realistic about the way Somalia society works.

Some 25 seats in the proposed assembly are also being reserved for women, and women delegates such as Asha Haji Elmi are keen to use their influence to focus on long-neglected issues such as education and health. "Surely, as women we see this ... a dream come true, and this is what we have been struggling for, and we believe that it is a notable achievement for Somali women and we are very much delighted on that," she told me.

Several main warlords and two regional administrations - Puntland and Somaliland - have refused to endorse the process.

Tent talks

The actual conference is taking place in Arta, a hilltop town about 40km outside Djibouti, which enjoys spectacular views down to the sea and it also offers just cooler breezes than the capital.

Somali gunmen
Civilians are tired of rule by the gun
The talking takes place inside a huge tent.

For accommodation the delegates are being housed either in the town's villas, lent by the Djibouti owners, or back in the hotels of the capital.

The bill for everything, including the hotels and the transport between Djibouti and Arta, is being footed by the Djibouti Government.

Since civil war broke out in Somali in 1991, 12 conferences have tried and failed to bring peace.

This attempt is the brainchild of Djibouti's President, Ismael Omar Guelleh, it was meant to have been wrapped up by the end of last month.

But the Somali delegates have still plenty to argue over.

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See also:

17 Nov 99 | Africa
The boring life of a warlord
06 Apr 99 | Africa
Gunning for the money in Somalia
24 Jul 00 | Africa
Somali peace talks 'sabotaged'
24 Jul 00 | Africa
Government-in-exile for Somalia?
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