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Members of New Somali Parliament Sworn In - 2004-08-22


More than 200 members of Somalia's new parliament were being sworn in Sunday at a ceremony in Kenya's capital, Nairobi. The names of some of the members have yet to be agreed upon before the Somali parliament can be complete.

Negotiators, delegates and observers hailed Sunday's ceremony at the United Nations complex in the Kenyan capital as a major breakthrough in the Somali peace process.

The Kenyan mediator of the process, Bethuel Kiplagat, says it means almost two years of talks may soon conclude.

"It's a big step forward. We are now entering the last phase, so it's an important occasion," he said. "Once we have sworn in, we just continue on and sort out whatever problems that are still there. There have been always milestones, and this is one of the milestones."

The swearing-in is the culmination of a peace conference that brings together Somalia's 23 or so factional leaders, traditional elders, members of civil society and others to end 13 years of civil war.

Under the terms of Somalia's charter, traditional elders and conference delegates choose 275 members of parliament representing Somalia's four clans and civic society. The members will, in turn, chose a speaker and a president.

Elections for a new government are to take place after five years.

But some of the names of the eventual 275 members of parliament are still being contested. For instance, Mr. Kiplagat says, sections of the Darod ethnic clan are unable to agree on who their parliamentary representatives should be.

Kenya's assistant minister for east African and regional cooperation, Joseph Nyagah, says negotiators will begin working immediately to finalize the contested names.

"Anybody who has a complaint - and there're a few - they're being referred to [an] arbitration committee, and the committee will be very fair and ensure that the correct people are chosen," he said.

He says the remaining members will be sworn in in stages, as their cases are resolved. Mediator Mr. Kiplagat says it should take negotiators about a week to finalize the list of the parliament members.

Somalia's ambassador to the United Nations, Ahmed Hashi, says that, although the new members have been selected rather than elected, people in Somalia will accept the choices made in Kenya.

"We cannot hold elections under the current circumstances, especially with regard to security issues," he said. "So, the selection process was the only viable process for choosing the members of parliament. The people of Somalia are fed up with the war, they are fed up with the lawlessness. The ordinary people of Somalia yearn for a government of national unity, for peace and stability in the country."

Mr. Hashi says he is optimistic that the list will be completed soon.

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