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New Mediator in Somalia Carries Hope of Moving Peace Process Forward - 2003-01-20


Somalia's neighbors are hoping that the appointment of a new mediator to the Somali peace talks will inject new momentum into the process.

The appointment of former ambassador Bethwell Kiplagat as Kenya's special envoy to the Somali peace and reconciliation talks comes at a crucial stage of the talks.

The previous mediator, Elijah Mwangale, was not popular among delegates at the peace talks, taking place in the Kenyan town of Eldoret. In a letter to Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki, they accused the mediator of being a dictator and demanded his removal.

Speaking just before his dismissal, Mr. Mwangale blamed his difficulties on disagreements among the more than 20 Somali leaders at the talks. "There are inherent weaknesses in the whole process based on the assumption that there would be easy acceptance of each other in terms of the leadership that is in Eldoret. So, whatever I do and I believe whatever any other chairman does after I leave, if I do, they will face the same problems," Mr. Mwangale said.

Analysts say it will clearly take more than the appointment of a new mediator to salvage the talks. Over the last couple of weeks, several warlords have walked out, complaining that too little progress was being made.

The talks, which have been going on for three months now, have become bogged down in disagreements over participation. Some 900 Somali delegates turned up when just 300 were expected.

This has put the Kenyan government, which is paying the delegates bills, under an enormous financial strain. The hotels in Eldoret are threatening to evict the delegates if the government does not settle its accounts.

Kenyan Foreign Minister Kalonzo Musyoka has pleaded with the hotels to give the government more time to find the money. "This minister wishes to urge the hotels not to throw out those delegates. In the spirit of being Kenyans I want to urge them to persevere for the time being," Mr. Musyoka said.

Somalia has had no central government since 1991 when President Mohammed Siad Barre was ousted. This is the 14th time that peace talks have been convened to try to restore order to the Horn of Africa country, which is ruled by rival warlords.

The new mediator, Mr. Kiplagat, a former Kenyan Ambassador to Britain and France and Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, is widely-respected as a regional peacemaker. He has been deeply involved in the Sudanese peace process and heads the Africa Peace Forum, a regional body working towards ending the myriad conflicts in the Horn of Africa.

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