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Somali Factional Leader Returns for Peace Talks - 2004-09-27

Somali factional leader Mohamed Hersi, better known as General Morgan, returned to the ongoing peace talks in Kenya aimed at ending Somalia's 13-year-old civil war. He crossed into Kenya this weekend to rejoin the talks, after recent clashes near the Somali port city of Kismayo.

General Morgan told reporters in Nairobi Monday he has always been a key player in the Somali peace process, which began in Kenya almost two years ago.

General Morgan, who walked out of the talks in March, said he left to deal with issues back in Somalia, and his representatives continued to participate in the negotiations.

Negotiators have blasted General Morgan for being the only major factional leader not to be present at the talks, and for attempting to take control of the area near Kismayo. Several people were killed and hundreds injured in recent clashes between his group and the Juba Valley Alliance faction.

General Morgan said he was attacked while resettling people fleeing violence and drought in the Lower and Middle Juba regions, and had fought back in self-defense.

"We would like officially to confirm that these groups has committed barbaric actions such as raping, killing, looting, destroying water wells, residential and commercial properties, causing heavy damage and loses to both human life and animals," he said.

Among those who General Morgan accuses of being behind the attacks are members of Somalia's new parliament, the Juba Valley Alliance faction, and the al-Itihad al-Islamiya, which the United States has linked to Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida network.

But the secretary of the Juba Valley Alliance, Abdirizak Ashkir, says General Morgan planned all along to take the area around Kismayo, and only returned to the talks when he was unable to do so.

"He has been attacking and he has been moving to a area for Kismayo," he said. "Morgan has been defeated and he crossed the border to Kenya. And now that's why he fleed [fled] from Somalia to Kenya."

At the time of the clashes, the Kenyan chairman of the IGAD Facilitation Committee, John Koech, issued a statement about General Morgan's advance, calling it a "blatant act of aggression," and threatened to impose sanctions against him.

Somalia fell into anarchy after former dictator Mohamed Siad Barre was ousted in 1991. At that time, clans pressured by famine and political turmoil, launched battles for territory in the region. IGAD is the seven-nation group trying to transform the nation from a patchwork of battling fiefdoms into a country with a centralized government.

Mr. Koech and other IGAD officials have said the factional leader's absence at the talks, and his military offenses, will not affect the final outcome of the peace process.

The talks bring together some 23 factional leaders, civil society representatives, and others to end the civil war.

Delegates put together a constitution and swore in some 275 members of parliament, who elected a speaker and is expected to choose a president on October 10.