Fighting erupts before Somali peace talks

A major Somali peace meeting resumed in Mogadishu on Thursday, hours after explosions echoed in the capital’s biggest market in the heaviest fighting in 15 days of non-stop violence.

“The conference has started. Prime Minister [Ali Mohamed] Gedi has arrived. The explosions will not deter us from continuing with the talks,” a security source told Reuters.

Somali soldiers, backed by Ethiopian troops, blocked all entry points to the venue of the conference, a former police compound in bullet-riddled northern Mogadishu.

Hours before the gathering of more than 1 000 delegates, suspected insurgents fired rockets, mortars and grenades at Somali forces patrolling the sprawling Bakara market in central Mogadishu, following up with machine-gun fire for nearly an hour.

“The sky was lit by the explosions,” grocery shop owner Mohamed Abdi told Reuters.
“They were the heaviest attacks so far on the troops.”

Residents said before the blasts that one man was killed and a woman wounded when attackers lobbed a grenade at soldiers who retaliated with gunfire at Bakara—home to one of the world’s biggest open-air weapons markets.

In a separate incident, suspected Islamist insurgents detonated a roadside landmine on Thursday targeting the deputy commander of Somalia’s military, General Ahmed Abdulle Sed, who escaped with minor injuries to his hand.

The interim government hopes the much-delayed reconciliation conference will address the root causes of the bloodshed.

Diplomats say the meeting is the last best hope for the government—a 14th attempt at forging national rule since 1991—to boost its legitimacy and win the support it needs to bring peace among Somalia’s many factions and clans.

However, the meeting has faced a raft of criticism including charges the government has tried to evade serious power-sharing negotiations.

“Opposition groups ... argue that the selection process has been controlled by the government to its advantage,” said Somalia expert Michael Weinstein in a report published on Thursday.

Insurgents thought to be members of an ousted militant Islamist movement have threatened to attack the conference, which their leaders say they will boycott as long as Ethiopian soldiers are in the country.

Three mortar bombs were fired at the opening ceremony on Sunday, but missed their target.—Reuters

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