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Efforts To Jump Start Somali Peace Talks - 2003-10-09

Mediators in peace talks aimed at restoring a government to war-shattered Somalia, say they are making every effort to end a boycott of the talks by powerful Somali warlords. The walkout has further jeopardized a conference that has suffered major setbacks in recent weeks.

Diplomats and mediators at the year-old talks in Kenya say they are working hard to persuade all warring parties to return to the negotiating table, as soon as possible.

The current round of talks is the 14th effort by regional mediators and diplomats to end more than a decade of anarchy in Somalia. Factional fighting, led by various militia leaders, has been raging since the overthrow of Somalia's last government in 1991.

In a telephone interview with V-O-A, the U-N special representative for Somalia, Winston Tubman, acknowledged last week's walkout by two of the most powerful militia leaders dealt a severe blow to the talks in Mogadishu.

Mr. Tubman says the warlords must return to the conference to keep the latest peace effort from collapsing.

"Whatever the grievances are, the feeling is that, if they all got together, they would be able to put it on the table. If we can get them all together, we probably will be on our way to some breakthrough."

Last Tuesday, the two warlords and 12 other southern Somali political groups quit the talks, protesting what they said were attempts by Ethiopia to dominate the Kenya talks and any new Somali administration the conference produces.

The warlords say they are in the process of setting up an organization called the Somali Salvation National Alliance, which would sponsor a rival peace conference.

Reporters in Mogadishu say members of the new alliance met the leader of Somalia's defunct interim government, Abdiqassim Salad Hassan, on Wednesday to try to persuade him to join their group.

Mr. Hassan stormed out of the Kenya talks in September, charging that mediators approved a transitional constitution, without consulting him or other factional leaders. The Somali leader, who has strong ties to several Arab countries, says the 40-page charter was too favorable to Ethiopia.

Mediators in Kenya say they are planning to visit Mr. Hassan in Mogadishu to ask him to return to the talks.

Ethiopia, a member of the technical committee spearheading the conference, denies interfering in the peace process. It says the country has a vital interest in making sure Somalia becomes a peaceful neighbor in the Horn of Africa.