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Skepticism Over Planned Somali Peace Meeting - 2003-12-29

A Somali state official says an upcoming meeting of Somali warlords and leaders aimed at putting the stalled peace process back on track will do more harm than good.

The spokesman for the Somali state of Puntland, Awad Ahmed Ashara, told reporters in Nairobi that next month's planned meeting of 40 warlords and selected leaders is not only unnecessary, but will cause divisions among delegates who have been attending the year-long Somali peace talks in Kenya.

Mr. Ashara, who is also Puntland State's minister of justice and religious affairs, says the invited leaders do not represent a balanced mix of the country's four major clans and civil society, which could cause some clans to feel left out.

"This will create a new confrontation even, and will take back all what we have done throughout the process."

Mr. Ashara also calls the meeting unnecessary, since the leaders agree on basic issues. Mr. Ashara points out how more than 20 warlords signed a cease-fire agreement last year, which he calls historic.

Kenya's foreign affairs minister, Kalonzo Musyoka, recently announced that the 10-day, make-or-break meeting would open January 9th in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi.

The warlords and selected representatives are supposed to evaluate the progress of the year-long peace process and try to iron out any major sticking points that prevent them from reaching a peace deal.

After the January meeting, the leaders and more than 350 participants in the talks are expected to finalize the country's constitution and choose a parliament, speaker, and president of the country's next transitional government.

Mr. Musyoka said officials of the seven-nation Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), which has been mediating the talks in Kenya for more than a year, as well as international partners, donors, and others are all getting tired of the talks' slow pace and the fact that little has been achieved.

"Patience is running out on the part of everybody, all the people of goodwill for the people of Somalia. I just want to stress that any leader who will not show up will be seen to be an enemy of this process and will be treated as such."

The meeting has been postponed a number of times because of disagreement about who exactly should attend.

The Somali talks are seeking to end more than a decade of civil war. The talks have been characterized by frequent walkouts of warlords and infighting, which officials want the January meeting to resolve.