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Somalia, Sudan Peace Process Moves Slower Than Expected - 2003-12-01


Progress at year-long peace talks to try to end civil wars in Somalia and Sudan is being examined at a three-day international conference that started Monday.

Kenyan Foreign Affairs Minister Kalonzo Musyoka told reporters, he and others are losing patience with the more than 400 participants of the Somali peace conference, which began last year, and is now taking place in a section of Nairobi called Mbagathi.

By now, the delegates should have approved Somalia's new constitution, selected 351 parliamentarians, and be holding elections for Somalia's president and speaker of the house.

Instead, during the last few months, faction leaders unhappy with the peace process have stormed out to form their own parallel talks. Mr. Musyoka called this action 'forum-shopping,' and said it was thanks to negotiators that these attempts to stop the main peace process have failed.

Mr. Musyoka announced that 40 Somali leaders, including the 25 or so warlords representing the country's many factions, have been invited to attend a 10-day retreat in the Kenyan coastal town of Mombasa starting next week to work out their differences.

Although he would not say what would happen if the retreat failed, he hinted strongly the talks would soon have to stop, and that this might be Somalia's last chance at peace.

"We think that the time frame is important," he said. "It is certainly not our intention to continue forever with this peace process for Somalia. If this effort fails in Mbagathi, I do not know who else in the world would really feel encouraged to take over from where Kenya and the region will have reached."

He says the Kenyan government has incurred a debt of more than 600 million shillings ($7.8 million) for the Somali talks, and is asking donors for money to cover the debt.

Mr. Musyoka says the Sudanese peace talks, on the other hand, are on schedule and are expected to bring peace to Sudan very soon.

"We're very optimistic about the peace process in the Sudan, and everybody now is thinking beyond the conflict with regard to this conflict," he said.

Mr. Musyoka says senior officials from the Sudanese government and the Sudan People's Liberation Army are preparing for the high-level meeting at the end of the week between rebel leader John Garang and First Vice President Ali Osman Taha.

The two are expected to work out final arrangements for power sharing and security. Officials estimate that a peace deal could be finalized by the end of January.

The foreign affairs minister made his remarks on the opening day of a three-day conference organized by the regional grouping Inter-Governmental Authority on Development, of which Kenya is a member.

The authority has been mediating both sets of talks. At the conference, mediators and the authority's partners are discussing the two talks in detail to see what is going right and wrong, and the way forward.

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