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Somali Leaders Meet in Nairobi - 2004-01-09

In Nairobi, Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki and Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni have opened a 10-day meeting of top Somali leaders, aimed at reviving stalled peace talks. The latest reconciliation talks have already suffered a setback after some of the most powerful warlords boycotted the opening of the summit.

Four of Somalia's most powerful warlords, including two militia leaders from the capital, Mogadishu, failed to show up on Friday. The four walked out of the previous round of peace talks last September in Nairobi, saying they were dissatisfied with the process.

Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki urged the warlords to join the reconciliation talks. He reminded Somali factional leaders that the international community was becoming disillusioned with the bickering and infighting that have characterized the 14-month-long peace process.

"You must not let this chance pass," he said. "You have a rare chance to sit down together, put aside personal interests and differences and promote the widest interests of your country and your people."

In addition to the boycott, a separate dispute almost derailed the opening of the summit.

Disagreements over who should be allowed to attend the talks caused several Somali leaders to hesitate whether to take part. The dispute caused a nearly nine-hour delay to the start of the talks.

Earlier in the week, several Somali politicians demanded that participants in the summit be limited to leaders who signed an October 2002 cease-fire agreement. But officials from the seven-nation Inter-Governmental Authority on Development, which has been mediating the peace talks, invited more than 40 leaders, including those who did not endorse the agreement.

The long-awaited 10-day meeting had already been postponed three times in the past two months because of disagreements over the same issue.

Mediators expressed hope that all Somali leaders invited to the talks would participate in what many officials have described as a make-or-break effort to end Somalia's decade-long civil war.

The meeting seeks to finalize the country's constitution and choose a parliament, speaker and the president of a new transitional government.

Somalia has not had a functioning government since 1991, when long-time President Mohammed Siad Barre was overthrown, and the country plunged into factional fighting and anarchy.

Since then, more than a dozen regional attempts to broker a peace deal have failed.