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Regional Conference on Somalia Security Opens in Kenya

A regional conference on security in Somalia has opened in Nairobi. Organized by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development, the conference comes in the wake of a ceasefire agreement between Somalia's transitional government and one of the country's rebel factions. For VOA, Derek Kilner has more from Nairobi.

The conference brings together the leaders of Somalia's Transitional Federal Government, many of its legislators, and members of the Alliance for the Re-Liberation of Somalia, an insurgent group that signed a ceasefire agreement with the transitional government in Djibouti on Sunday.

Also attending are officials from the member states of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development, or IGAD including Kenya, Ethiopia, Uganda, Sudan, and Djibouti.

Somalia's Transitional Government was created at an earlier IGAD conference in 2004. And at the opening of the conference on Tuesday, many of the group's members expressed frustration with the successes of the Somali government so far.

Kenyan Foreign Minister Moses Wetang'ula criticized infighting within the government, and its inability to create effective government institutions and a new constitution.

Ethiopian Foreign Minister Seyoum Mesfin, who chairs IGAD's Council of Ministers, expressed similar concerns.

"Somalia's problems are not security but political," Mesfin said. "Ten months prior to the end of the transition period, the TFG has not managed to create any institutions of governance to speak of. We decided to talk with the TFG leaders and the transitional federal parliamentarians in a frank manner and with the intention of making our alarm at the lack of progress in institution building and at the continuing feud within the leadership which in our view had contributed to the paralysis of the TFIs. "

On Sunday, the transitional government signed an agreement with the leader of the Alliance for the Reliberation of Somalia, Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed. The agreement, backed by the United Nations, calls for the insurgents to cooperate with the government. And it calls for Ethiopian troops, who have occupied the country since ousting Islamists from control of Mogadishu in late 2006 , to withdraw from the capital and other regional centers.

But al-Shabaab, another, more radical faction of the insurgency, has rejected the deal and vowed to fight on.

The Alliance for the Reliberation of Somalia is divided as well, with some of its members rejecting the deal. Mohamed Amin Osman, a member of the group's central committee, says the deal goes against an earlier agreement reached with the Somali government in August, calling for Ethiopian troops to leave the country within 120 days, or by the end of 2008.

"But problem is, as long as Ethiopia is inside the country, negotiation cannot be a success," Osman said. "Those who are in the ground, who are fighting, they are not going to listen to anyone if Ethiopia is still in the country."

Kenya's foreign minister also echoed the African Union's request for the United Nations to take over peacekeeping duties in Somalia. The AU currently has roughly 3,500 Ugandan and Burundian peacekeepers in the country. But they have had little success in stopping an escalating insurgency, that has turned Somalia into what UN officials have called Africa's worst humanitarian crisis.