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Rising Frustrations Could End Somali Peace Process - 2004-04-21

There are signs that rising frustrations may prematurely end the Somali peace process that began in Kenya more than a year-and-a-half ago.

Kenyan Foreign Affairs Minister Kalonzo Musyoka says mediators from the regional body coordinating the long-running Somali peace talks will decide May 6 whether to continue with the talks or hand the peace process over to the United Nations Security Council.

He said the Security Council has the power to impose sanctions on the factional leaders if the talks do not continue.

Mr. Musyoka said he and many mediators and international donors are fed up with the twists and turns of a process in which Somalia's factional leaders, civil society representatives and other delegates have become engaged in. "Patience is running out on the part of everybody, all the people of good will for the people of Somalia," he said.

The talks are aimed at ending more than a decade of lawlessness, and selecting a new government. Some 23 Somali factional leaders control different parts of the country through their militias. Negotiators say the most troublesome part of the peace process has been the trend where these factional leaders sign agreements, only to erupt in squabbling that has tested everyone's patience.

Mr. Musyoka said key factors that could determine whether the talks continue after May 6 will be the sincerity of the Somali warlords not to backtrack on agreements and their willingness to share power.

Delegates are currently in the process of selecting members for an interim government. "The problem is, who becomes president, who becomes prime minister, who will have an advantage from the sub sub-clan level, and we're saying that they have to run away as fast as they can, in my view, from this idea of a winner takes all. They have to really think in terms of everybody being part and parcel of the interim administration," Mr. Musyoka said.

Some officials at the talks privately question whether this is possible, given that most factional leaders profit from the country's long-running chaos. Factional leaders reportedly earn revenue by charging user fees for facilities in areas they control as well as trading in arms.

While some point to the behavior of factional leaders for the slow progress, others blame what they say is biased leadership from the seven-country regional body - the Intergovernmental Authority on Development, or IGAD - mediating the talks.

A spokesman for Somalia's interim prime minister, Ahmed Isse Awad, says neighboring Ethiopia and Djibouti, member countries of IGAD, have a vested interest in the outcome of the talks. He said Ethiopia's and Djibouti's leaders are putting pressure on certain factional leaders to maintain their countries' interests in Somalia or face a loss of support. "These Somali so-called leaders are not as strong as they look on the table. They are very weak. Each one of them is afraid," he said.

It's not just delegates and mediators who are unhappy with the talks. Hotels and conference centers are complaining bitterly about massive bills they are incurring from the facilities they are renting out.

One hotel finance manager says donor money is paid in increments, and IGAD can pay hotel bills only as the money comes in.

According to a U.N. Secretary General report released in February, the total costs of the peace process from February 2003 to January 2004 totaled $13 million, with donors pledging only $6 million.

Still, donors such as the European Commission, Italy, Britain and the League of Arab States are continuing to pledge donations to the peace process.

Britain's representative at the talks, David Bell, said the Somali talks are particularly urgent. "Inevitably, there will come a time, or there could come a time, where the international community will say it's not worth going on. But if you think about it, Somalia is one of the poorest countries in the world. It is probably the only country in the world which has no government. Therefore, seven million people deserve very, very careful consideration before everybody walks away from them," he said.

With the threat of terrorism growing in Africa, Mr. Bell and others warn that the world cannot afford to allow Somalia to continue to be mired in a state of anarchy indefinitely.