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Somalia, Kenya Presidents Hold Talks on Terrorism, Refugees - 2003-06-17

The president of Somalia's Transitional National Government is in Nairobi for talks with Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki on terrorism and other issues affecting their two countries. And they will also be talking about the future of Somalia.

The president of Somalia, Dr. Abdikassim Salat Hassan, arrived in Nairobi Tuesday. He and President Kibaki are to discuss ways of jointly fighting terrorism in the region and dealing with the cross-border movements of refugees.

But perhaps the most pressing topic on their agenda is the progress of Somali peace talks currently taking place in Kenya. Dr. Hassan expressed his gratitude to the Kenyan government for its role in mediating the talks between Somalia's various factions.

"I would like to take this opportunity to thank wholeheartedly the people, the president, and the government of Kenya for the warm hospitality accorded to me and my delegation," said President Hassan, "and also for their kind attention and effort for the peace conference of Somalia, which has been taking place in Kenya now for more than eight months."

The Kenyan government has taken the lead in brokering peace talks that aim to end 12 years of anarchy in Somalia. The country is split into areas ruled by warring clan leaders. For the past year, these warlords and other delegates have been in Kenya, trying to resolve their differences, write a new constitution for the country, and elect a new president and parliament.

A similar conference took place in Djibouti three years ago. There, 245 delegates were appointed as members of parliament. They, in turn, elected Mr. Hassan to lead the government for three years while they worked out a more permanent solution. However, despite its official title, there is little national about the transitional government that Mr. Hassan leads. It does not even control all of the Somali capital, Mogadishu.

With Mr. Hassan's three-year term about to end, conference delegates are expected to elect a new parliament and government within the next few weeks. Mr. Hassan would neither confirm nor deny rumors that he is planning to run again for president. Several warlords have already announced their intentions to run.

Mr. Hassan's visit comes at a time in which his party appears to be as fractured as ever. On Monday, the speaker of the House, Abdallah Derow Isaak, declared himself Somalia's new president.

Mr. Hassan dismisses the speaker's declaration as being irrelevant. "We have a constitution. We have a parliament. Personally, I don't know about that event and I'm not interested in talking about that point," he said.

Analysts say the next few weeks in the Kenyan-sponsored Somali talks will be crucial. After 13 previously failed peace talks, many are viewing this round of talks as a final test of Somalia's chances of establishing a functioning government.