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'Somali Factions Want a Solution,' says Mediator - 2003-01-21

The man who was recently appointed to mediate the peace talks on Somalia says he believes the political will exists to bring peace to the war-torn country, which has been without a central government since 1991.

The mediator, Bethuel Kiplagat, was appointed last week to help Somalia's various factions reach agreement at peace talks that have been under way for three months. In an interview with VOA, Mr. Kiplagat said his initial discussions with those involved in the talks have made him optimistic.

"The reports so far that I have received - that the Somalis would like to carry on and find a solution to their problem, that the condition within the region and also in Somalia is favorable to getting an agreement - that's what I am hearing," he said.

The previous mediator, Elijah Mwangale, was removed last week following complaints from some of the various Somali factions that he was acting like a dictator.

Mr. Mwangale had blamed his difficulties on poor relations among the 20-plus leaders at the talks, which are being held in the Kenyan town of Eldoret.

Mr. Kiplagat, a Kenyan diplomat, says the fact that there has been little progress so far in the talks doesn't surprise him. There are a lot of factions, he says, and they come from very different backgrounds.

"They are such a varied group, all the way from elders to university graduates, and also the clan differences," he said. "The memories of the past 12 years, they are carrying a lot of baggage and with that baggage, you are bound to have differences and arguments. So I am used to this kind and there is no peace process where there are no major internal differences. The only thing you have to do is find a way of chipping at some of these problems."

Mr. Kiplagat is traveling to Eldoret on Tuesday and plans to have his first meeting with the delegates to the peace talks on Wednesday. He will be joined by the Kenyan foreign minister, Kalonzo Mufyoka, who is expected to urge the Somalis to continue with their push for peace.

Somalia has been ruled by rival warlords since the ouster of President Mohammed Siad Barre 12 years ago.