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Somalia Reconciliation Conference to Tackle Factional Fighting - 2002-05-16

Kenya is planning to host a national reconciliation conference for Somalia. The session could take place as early as June. It is an attempt to end years of factional fighting in Somalia. Kenyan officials discussed at a news conference Thursday what steps are being taken to persuade Somalia's warring parties to attend the conference.

Officials in Nairobi say that representatives from Kenya, Ethiopia and Djibouti - countries that border Somalia - will arrive in Somalia on Monday.

Kenyan Foreign Minister Marsden Madoka says they will meet with all of Somalia's faction leaders to discuss the upcoming Nairobi conference.

"We will visit every single area where we feel there is some group or some faction leader who needs to be brought on board," Mr. Madoka said. "The representatives will stay [in Somalia] for two weeks if need be, but we must contact. I think that will be the key. As we go around they are trying to find out what is their vision for Somalia. What sort of system of government do they want, a united Somalia, a federal system? And then all these are the factors that will help us in strategizing for the Nairobi conference."

Kenya was chosen to host the Somali reconciliation conference at a summit of East African states in January.

The conference was first due to start in April. It has now been put back to late June or early July.

Mr. Madoka says he has delayed the conference in an effort to make sure all the factions in Somalia can participate.

"Everybody is keen to come to the conference whenever it takes place. And they all again agree that we need not hurry the process until we have got everybody on board," he noted. "From the findings so far it is again clear that maybe in the past we have concentrated on just setting up the government in Somalia. But there is a need to address other issues like land, like the question of disarmament or the question of integrating the various factions."

Two years ago, a new government was formed in Somalia, the first it had in nearly a decade, but the government still only controls a small part of the country. The rest is divided among various warlords.

There has been an upsurge of factional fighting in recent weeks. In the southwestern Gedo region, allies of the Transitional National Government, which controls the Somali capital, Mogadishu, have been fighting allies of the Somali Reconciliation and Restoration Council, which is backed by Ethiopia.

There has also been renewed conflict in the northwestern region of Puntland, where two factions are battling for control of the self-declared autonomous mini-state.