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Somali Talks Delayed for 10 Days - 2003-12-08

A meeting of Somali warlords scheduled to take place December 9 on Kenya's east coast has been postponed until December 18.

Kenya's minister for foreign affairs, Kalonzo Musyoka, had told the opening session of a one-day meeting of ministers in Nairobi the retreat would proceed in Mombasa as planned.

But at the closing session, he told the ministers, diplomats and others involved with the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development that the retreat would be held in 10 days' time.

The seven-nation development authority, in conjunction with associated members such as the United States, Italy and the European Union, has been mediating Somali peace talks in Nairobi for more than a year. The retreat was to usher in the final phase of the talks.

Mr. Musyoka explained the main reason for the 10-day delay was because the president of the country's Transitional National Government, Abdiqassim Salat Hassan, wanted time to have a meeting before the retreat.

But Mr. Musyoka criticized Mr. Abdiqassim's request. "This is what we've been specifically saying is amounting to forum shopping and kind of trying to buy extra time. We advised against this," he said.

Mr. Abdiqassim, along with Muse Sudi Yallahow and other warlords, had pulled out of the Somali peace talks earlier, displeased with the country's draft charter and the process of the talks.

The group of warlords, currently in Somalia's capital, Mogadishu, proposed holding parallel talks.

Mr. Abdiqassim's withdrawal also deepened a split within the Transitional National Government, with two leaders claiming to speak for the government. Mr. Musyoka told reporters Mr. Abdiqassim would represent the government at the retreat.

Analysts say officials in the development authority are having a hard time wooing Mr. Abdiqassim and the other warlords back to the table. They say the talks have little chance of success unless all warlords are at the table in one peace process.

Mr. Musyoka said at the closing session that any invited warlord who failed to show up at the upcoming retreat, in his words, "shall be deemed not to be interested in the reconciliation process and will be treated as such."

Officials say the retreat is supposed to be an opportunity for Somalia's warlords and other leaders, about 40 or so in total, to come together to evaluate the talks' progress so far and to iron out any major sticking points preventing them from reaching a deal.

After the retreat, the leaders, along with the more than 350 delegates attending the year-long peace talks, are supposed to finalize the country's constitution, and choose a parliament, speaker, and president of the country's next transitional government.

The Somali peace talks bring together among others, representatives from several African countries and more than 20 warlords who have been battling since 1991.