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Somalian Refugees in Kenya Have Little Hope for Peace - 2003-12-18

The end to Somalia's civil war appears as distant as ever, despite more than a year of talks in neighboring Kenya to find a formula for peace. The one group yearning for peace the most, but excluded from the process all together, are the nearly 140,000 Somali refugees living in squalor in Kenya's Dadaab refugee camp.

Dry, dusty, sweltering Dadaab refugee camp in northeastern Kenya is a world away from the lush coastal town of Mombasa, where 40 of Somalia's warlords and selected leaders were supposed to have attended a 10-day make-or-break meeting starting Thursday to sort out their differences.

But the meeting is being postponed indefinitely. Officials would not explain why, but analysts say leaders of the warring factions couldn't agree on who should attend and who shouldn't.

This is the latest setback in a peace process marked by internal wrangling among hundreds of delegates who have been meeting in Kenya for more than a year. They were picked to write a new constitution for Somalia and select the next government.

Regional governments that drive the peace process have recognized the unwieldy assembly of warlords, civic organizations and government delegates is unlikely to agree on anything. So they asked the key faction leaders to meet alone in Mombasa and settle differences among themselves.

Conspicuously absent even from the larger assembly are tens of thousands of Somali refugees who fled the fighting more than a decade ago.

Dadaab residents are following the peace talks closely, but have no say in the process and their frustration is growing.

One camp resident, Abshira Aden Mohammed, says she speaks for the forgotten Somalis. Ms. Mohammed says the refugees, who have been in the camp for up to 12 years and who know the suffering of the Somali people, have never been consulted. She says the talks will not be successful unless refugees are included.

Elder Hassan Dagane agrees. He explains that the camp's residents got together and petitioned the peace process sponsors to be included. They have never got an answer.

Another refugee, Abdikadir Hassan Abdi, explains the warlords have an economic stake in the continuation of the civil war and are not the best people to be negotiating peace. Mr. Abdi says the warlords' businesses are flourishing in Somalia because there is no central government to control them. They will always make sure the war continues, he says, so that they can keep on getting richer.

But for Mohammed Jelle, the warlords are not necessarily the problem. Mr. Jelle says people at the camp have been hearing that the Ethiopian government has been entering Somalia with weapons and even control some parts of Somalia. He says Ethiopia is controlling the peace process.

Meanwhile at the camp, the residents live in appalling conditions, sleeping in makeshift shelters made of branches, mud and burlap or plastic sacks, and surviving on dwindling food rations.

Ms. Mohammed sums up the collective frustration. She says, refugees are begging for food and have no freedom. She says the women in the camp suffer the most. When they go to the bush to get firewood, she says, they are raped.

The World Food Program says it sometimes provides less than the minimum daily requirements of food to the refugees because of lack of donations, and warns that it might run out of food aid next year.

With the Somali peace process going nowhere, Dadaab camp residents are unlikely to go back home anytime soon.