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Somali Clan United Against Peace Conference

In a new sign of trouble for Somalia's transitional government, elders of the Hawiye clan, which dominates in the capital, are threatening to boycott a national reconciliation conference, scheduled to begin in five days. Meanwhile, the chairman of the reconciliation committee tells VOA there is a chance the peace talks may be delayed again for the third time. Correspondent Alisha Ryu reports from Mogadishu.

A prominent Hawiye elder in Mogadishu, Haji Abdi Imam Omar, tells VOA that the clan is united in opposing the reconciliation conference, which he says is promising to be little more than a get-together of pro-government delegates.

Haji Omar is the chairman of the newly-formed Hawiye Elders Congress, a political body established to unite fractious sub-clans and to function as the voice of the Hawiye people.

The Hawiye leader says the interim government has failed to engage clan elders in any meaningful talks before the conference and has not responded to the list of demands they submitted to the reconciliation committee in early May.

Haji Omar says that is why the Hawiye believe the June 16 talks will not be held in the interest of all of the Somali people.

The participation of the Hawiye clan is crucial to the talks, not only because it is one of the largest clans in Somalia, but because the clan dominates in the capital, where the government is struggling to assert full control.

A violent insurgency erupted in February, a month after the Ethiopian-backed interim government defeated Somalia's Islamist movement and took power in Mogadishu.

Ensuing battles between insurgents and Ethiopian troops have killed nearly 2,000 people and have caused hundreds of thousands of others to flee the city.

The insurgents are believed to be a mix of Islamist fighters and Hawiye militiamen. Both groups are angry over the government's close relationship with Ethiopia and the presence of Ethiopian troops in Somalia.

Many Hawiye clan members also believe that President Abdullahi Yusuf's powerful rival clan, the Darod, are using the presidential office to lay down the groundwork to weaken and marginalize the Hawiye.

They criticize Hawiye members in the interim government, such as Prime Minister Ali Mohamed Gedi and the chairman of the national reconciliation committee, Ali Mahdi Mohamed, as doing little to protect Hawiye interests.

Prime Minister Gedi vigorously denies accusations the government is being deliberately vague about the make-up and the agenda of the conference and hand-picking delegates.

"Friends and brothers and sisters are not in place," he said. "This [conference] is based according to the transitional federal charter. The selection mandate has been given to the elders and traditional leaders of each and every clan. So, this is the way and nobody can change it, even myself, even the president, even the parliament. No."

Western donor nations, particularly the European Union, have made financial support of the reconciliation conference conditional on the government's willingness to hold inclusive, transparent talks.

On Sunday, committee chairman, Ali Mahdi Mohamed, told VOA that donors have only released a fraction of the money needed. He says this may cause the start of the conference to be delayed one to two weeks.

The conference has been postponed twice, in April and in May, because of insecurity in the capital.