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Somali Factional Leaders Demand Ethiopian Participation in Peace Talks - 2004-02-24

Several factions in the Somali peace talks have said they will not take part until Ethiopia rejoins the talks.

Six factional leaders from southern Somalia said they will not join the final phase of the peace talks because Ethiopia is not at the table.

On Monday, the 366 delegates of the Somali peace talks endorsed the final version of the country's draft constitution, effectively opening the talks' third and last phase. The delegates are now expected to form Somalia's next government.

A seven-nation regional grouping called IGAD is mediating the talks. Officials from Kenya, Uganda, Eritrea, Djibouti and, until recently, Ethiopia have been involved in the process.

But a spokesman for one of the six factional leaders, Salad Ali Jelle, says the peace process should not go on until Ethiopia is back on board.

"Yesterday, what happened, we do not support because Ethiopian government is not here," he said.

The six factional leaders belong to the Somali Restoration and Reconstruction Council, a grouping backed by Ethiopia that is opposed to Somalia's current Transitional National Government, supported by Djibouti.

The six leaders charge that, without Ethiopia's presence at the talks, the IGAD leadership at the talks is biased in favor of some groups.

According to factional leader Hussein Aideed, not having Ethiopia on board has implications beyond Somalia's borders.

"We do not want a division among our neighbors because this is a regional peace process and we want their consensus as well as the Somali different groups' consensus so that way we can achieve a democratic transitional government where Somalia can achieve the full peace," said Mr. Aideed.

The six leaders also called for IGAD to redefine who is considered a Somali leader, and asked that the talks be moved from Kenya to what they called a neutral country.

Attempts by VOA to contact IGAD officials were unsuccessful. One official told the U.N. news agency, IRIN, that the peace process would continue, even if the six factional leaders pull out.

The official told IRIN that the six leaders are, in its words, not serious in their commitment to the process, and warned Somalis about delaying tactics.