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Political Divisions Again Endanger Somali Peace Talks

In another blow to Somali government plans to hold a long-delayed peace conference to end the country's 16-year-old civil war, elders of the most dominant clan in Mogadishu, the Hawiye, have failed to resume talks to unite the clan politically. The talks were suspended three days ago because of various disputes among competing sub-clans. VOA Correspondent Alisha Ryu has more from our East African Bureau in Nairobi.

A Hawiye clan elder, belonging to the Abgal sub-clan, acknowledged that efforts to reach a consensus among one of the largest and fractious tribes in Somalia is proving to be nearly impossible.

Clan elder Abdullahi Sheikh Hassan in Mogadishu says he cannot say when the Hawiye leaders will meet again.

"Yes, they are one clan, but every area is different," he said. "Some people support the Islamic courts. Some people support government and other groups. So, many, many different [people] are here."

On Monday, a meeting of 300 Hawiye leaders ended after only two hours when a dispute broke out over who should attend the July 15 reconciliation conference in the capital.

The conference, expected to bring together 1,300 delegates from rival Somali factions, has been delayed three times since April, largely because of insecurity and clan disagreements.

The Hawiye clan meeting was scheduled to reconvene Thursday. But several key elders boycotted it, saying the meeting cannot be held until interim government leaders respond to the list of demands they submitted to the reconciliation committee two months ago.

The list of demands calls for securing an official ceasefire between insurgents and Ethiopian troops in Somalia, a complete withdrawal of Ethiopian troops from the country, and sharing the chairmanship of the peace conference with a representative from opposition groups to ensure fairness.

Somalia's Hawiye clan is made up of numerous sub-groups. Its members include powerful factional leaders in Somalia's western-backed interim government, as well as radical Islamists waging a violent insurgency against government leaders and their Ethiopian backers.

Mogadishu's mayor Mohamed Omar Habeb, better known as Mohamed Dheere, escaped a roadside bomb attack on Thursday that targeted his convoy in the capital's northern Shibis neighborhood. It was the second time the mayor escaped an assassination attempt since he was appointed to the post in May.

Insurgents have also stepped up attacks against Ethiopian troops, who have remained in Somalia since helping the interim government take power from Somali Islamists in late December.

Mogadishu residents tell VOA that the capital, which is under a nighttime curfew, is tense after Ethiopian and Somali troops swept through several neighborhoods, arresting as many as 100 suspected insurgents.

The government says about 3,000 additional police have been deployed in the past two days to secure the capital. But residents complain that many government police and soldiers are creating more anger and violence by routinely looting homes they search and robbing civilians at checkpoints.