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Somali Peace Talks Continue Despite Recent Violence - 2004-06-02

The final phase of Somali peace talks in Kenya is continuing in spite of recent fighting in several parts of Somalia.

The Kenyan mediator of the long-running Somali peace conference, Bethuel Kiplagat, told VOA Wednesday recent violence in Somalia has not deterred delegates from completing the final phase of the talks, which began in Kenya more than a year-and-a-half ago.

?There is an attempt by clan leaders to mediate. So, so far, [the fighting] is not having any negative impact,? he said.

An official of the Somali Red Crescent Society says about 58 people were killed Tuesday, and 80 were injured, when rival factions fought for control of Bulohawo, a town near the Kenyan border.

According to Charles Narangwi, the police chief for the northern Kenyan division of Mandera, some 500 Somalis crossed into Kenya to flee the fighting.

He said people are slowly returning to Somalia, and Kenya has beefed up security along that part of the border.

Tuesday's violence follows factional fighting throughout May in Somalia's capital, Mogadishu, which left more than 100 people dead and thousands displaced.

The Kenyan mediator, Mr. Kiplagat, added that two warlords are primarily responsible for the Mogadishu violence. Those warlords, he said, left the Somali peace conference some time ago. ?There were two of them who are involved, but we have been urging them to stop and to come to the conference,? he said.

Mr. Kiplagat said the peace process is moving along well, with traditional elders arriving from Somalia to assist in the selection of a new interim government.

The head of Nairobi's Security Research and Information Center, retired Colonel Jan Kamenju, said that the recent breakthroughs in the Sudan peace talks should inspire Somalis to do the same as they continue with their talks.

?The indications are that the talks are going on and they are hopeful that they should get something by July,? he said. ?Also, the fact that the Sudanese have signed theirs, I think is also an incentive that the Somalis should move faster.?

Colonel Kamenju added that fighting in Somalia is sporadic and is restricted to small areas. He says a new government will be able to resolve the local conflicts.

The delegates at the peace talks are working to end more than a decade of civil war, and to select a new government for Somalia.

Currently, 23 Somali factional leaders control various parts of the country through their clan and sub-clan-based militias.