Accessibility links

Breaking News

Somalian Parliament to Return Home After 2 Years of Peace Talks - 2004-09-17


The Somali peace process that began in Kenya two years ago could soon come to a close. Somalia's new parliament, which is sitting in Kenya's capital, Nairobi, is on the verge of selecting a president, and is expected to return to Somalia within a few weeks. But questions remain about whether or not factional leaders within the new government will be willing or able to bring peace to Somalia.

Somalia's Member of Parliament for Mogadishu, Hussein Farah Aideed, is a very worried man.

The leader of the United Somali Congress, USC., faction and his 15,000 strong militia are in control of that section of Somalia's capital where the new president, speaker, and some 275 parliamentarians are expected to relocate within the next few weeks.

Providing security for the new government is utmost on Mr. Aideed's mind. He says this is in part because the 23 or so factional leaders - who are now members of parliament - are still fighting despite having gone through two years of peace negotiations in Kenya and signing a cease-fire agreement.

"The different groups who have been fighting, who became all inclusive in the parliament, have not reconciled - their forces are still engaged on the ground. So there's no peace mechanism," he said. "We [USC] have to give special security. So it means if somebody coming from Puntland, we have to make sure they're secure within Mogadishu during the transition period because this is not their region. And they cannot bring forces in Puntland to come in Mogadishu because the factions who control this militia will fight."

It is not just members of the new parliament who need protection. Civilians continue to be caught up in factional fighting and other crime that has characterized Somalia ever since the overthrow of Mohammed Siad Barre in 1991.

For 13 years, groups based on clan and sub-clan affiliations have controlled different parts of Somalia through the strength of their militias, with no central government to provide law, order, and resources to the country's people.

There have been 14 peace conferences throughout the years to try to stop the fighting and unite Somalia under a single government.

A three-year Transitional National Government was formed during the last peace conference, held in Djibouti in 2000. But some factions rejected the arrangement, and the new government ended up only controlling some sections of Mogadishu and surrounding areas.

During the latest round of talks, the factional leaders, civil society representatives, traditional elders, and others wrote a new charter and selected a new government.

But critics question the sincerity of some of the members of Somalia's new parliament.

For instance, a panel of experts monitoring an arms embargo that the United Nations levied against Somalia in 1992 found that all factional leaders are violating the arms embargo, with some making big profits from the trade in weapons and ammunition.

In its August 11 report, the Monitoring Group said a few factional leaders do not even want a new government because their business interests would suffer.

Some critics are angry that factional leaders have been, in their view, rewarded with government posts when they have caused so much misery with their fighting and arms trading. They argue the factional leaders should be excluded from the new parliament.

But the U.N. Secretary-General's Representative for Somalia, Winston Tubman, says peace could not come to Somalia without the integration of the factional leaders into parliament.

"They will now be committed to defending Somalia, preventing these kinds of [arms] violations, and they will be held to answer if indeed they are found to be violating it," he said. "It's not the perfect solution, but sometimes you have to deal with people who may have had criminal activities in their past in order to bring them to a new way of behaving."

Mr. Tubman says any factional leaders not included within the government would continue to fight and trade arms with impunity.

This appears to be the case with Mohammed Hersi, commonly known as General Morgan, the only major factional leader not included in the latest round of talks. General Morgan's militia this week clashed with that of the Juba Valley Alliance as he tried to take control of areas near the port city of Kismayo. Several people were killed.

International negotiators and observers see General Morgan as a spoiler who will not be successful in derailing the peace process. They are publicly optimistic that members of the new parliament will put aside their antagonisms as they try to rebuild the country.

The African Union's envoy at the peace talks, Mohammed Foum, says that the past two years of negotiations have built a certain level of collegiality among the factional leaders and other parliamentarians.

"The Somalis don't hate each other - they are suspicious of one another," he noted. "There have been issues that have contributed to that atmosphere of suspicion. What we have been doing throughout these almost two years of talks is to break down those issues which have contributed to suspicion. And I believe after all these months, they have reached a point where there is some trust among each other."

If the factional leaders will respect the arms embargo and stop their fighting now that they are members of parliament is up for debate.

But virtually everyone agrees that the Somali people are tired of so much war and would eagerly embrace any initiative to bring peace and stability to their country.