Mediators in talks to end Somalia's 13-year civil war say efforts to install a new clan-based transitional government are finally making progress. At the same time, the mediators say they remain deeply concerned about the continuing absence of one key factional leader from the talks and reports indicating that he has recently purchased new arms for his militia.
Mediators for the seven-member regional Inter-Governmental Authority on Development, better known as IGAD, say there has been a new spirit of cooperation at the 20-month-old talks in Kenya. Delegates from various Somali factions have been trying to meet a July 31 deadline to form a new five-year transitional government.
The mediators say a major reason for the change is that growing economic ties between Ethiopia and Djibouti appear to have eased their political rivalry in recent months.
Both Horn of African countries, which are members of IGAD, have been accused of trying to influence the outcome of the talks by frustrating the peace process. At various times, representatives of both nations have staged temporary walkouts, prompting Somali groups aligned with them to walk out as well.
With tension easing in the Horn, Kenyan mediator Bethuel Kiplagat says Somali clan leaders are finally showing a genuine desire to form the country's first functioning government since 1991.
The idea is to create a clan-based, 275-member Parliament. The Parliament will then select a president which will lead the country to elections after five years.
But Mr. Kiplagat notes that there is one powerful warlord who has shown little interest in the political process.
"Every important Somali faction leader, warlord, is here in Nairobi. It's only Morgan who is away," he said.
The Kenyan diplomat is referring to General Mohammed Hersi Morgan, a much-feared warlord who operates out of the key Somali port town of Kismayo.
IGAD mediators have called for regional sanctions to be placed on General Morgan, who is believed to have recently purchased arms for his militia. Mr. Kiplagat will not confirm that report, but he says the warlord does appear to be trying to derail efforts to stabilize Somalia.
"He may be organizing, perhaps to launch campaigns which will not be conducive at all to the peace process here. He may well be mobilizing for war. We don't know," he said.
Mr. Kiplagat predicts Somalia's transitional federal government will be formed, even if General Morgan chooses not to participate. After 13 unsuccessful attempts in the past decade to bring peace to Somalia, IGAD mediators say they have no intention of failing again.