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UN-Backed Peace Process Still Faces Major Obstacles in Somalia


Somalia's newly-expanded parliament, meeting in Djibouti, is moving swiftly to elect a new interim president, possibly by Friday. The election is seen as the last step toward creating a unity government between Somalia's interim administration and an opposition group. But continued threats from Islamist militants and rising clan tensions are creating uncertainty for the latest U.N.-backed effort.

The acting president and speaker of parliament for Somalia's transitional federal government, Sheik Adan Mohamed Madobe, says parliament members are expected to vote for a new interim president on Friday.

More than a dozen presidential candidates are competing to replace Abdullahi Yusuf, who resigned last month after losing political backing from neighboring Ethiopia.

Yusuf was regarded as an obstacle to peace following his refusal to endorse a U.N.-sponsored peace process to form a unity government with the Djibouti-based Islamist-led opposition Alliance for the Re-liberation of Somalia, also known as ARS.

As part of the peace deal between the government and ARS, Ethiopia, which had been propping up the weak, secular government since late 2006, pulled its troops out of Somalia this month. That paved the way for the expansion of the Somali interim parliament to include some 200 ARS members. The mandate of parliament was also extended two more years to give the new members time to settle into their legislative roles.

But the transitional federal government-ARS alliance still faces serious challenges in establishing legitimacy and authority in Somalia.

The radical Islamic al-Shabab group, which led the fight to end the Ethiopian occupation and is listed as a terrorist organization by the United States, remains a bitter opponent of the peace process. It has vowed to continue fighting until all of Somalia is brought under strict Islamic law.

Equally alarming are recent statements by the administration of Puntland's newly-elected president. In a letter to the U.N. special envoy to Somalia last week, President Abdirahman Mohamed Farole complained that the northern Darod clan, the dominant clan in the restive semi-autonomous region, was not being adequately represented in the expanded parliament.

The ARS faction, led by moderate Islamist leader Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed, is largely seen in Puntland as a political group that represents the interests of the Darod clan's rival, the Hawiye. The Hawiye clan is predominant in central regions of Somalia and in the capital Mogadishu.

Puntland's new information minister, Warsame Abdi Sefta-Bananka, bluntly said on Tuesday that the unity government being formed in Djibouti is simply not acceptable.

The information minister says his government is against the Djibouti peace process with the ARS because it does not have the support of the Puntland people.

Puntland declared autonomy in 1998 to insulate the northern Darod clan from the political and economic upheaval in central and southern Somalia after the collapse of the central government seven years before.

After nearly a decade of relative peace, Puntland in recent years has suffered from an upsurge in criminal activity, including kidnappings, human trafficking, and piracy.

Analysts say the region must be considered vital to any international effort aimed at finding a lasting solution to the Somali crisis.

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