Somali conference marred by Mogadishu violence

A Somali reconciliation conference aimed at ending 16 years of war and attended by thousands was due to wrap up on Thursday after six weeks of talks that were marred by relentless violence in Mogadishu.

“It was the first time such a large number of Somali delegates in favour of peace met, so for this simple reason this congress is a basis for our future unity,” said clan elder Bile Mohamud Qabowsade.

More than 1 000 delegates representing the Horn of Africa country’s myriad clans and sub-clans met in the restive capital to discuss power- and wealth-sharing, as well as other key issues.

“The meeting is closing but the reconciliation remains open, it does not mean we have solved everything but the results we obtained show the congress is a stepping stone for future peace,” said Mohamud Haji Mohamed, another elder.

The reconciliation talks, aimed at ending the latest bout of violence in Mogadishu and paving the way for stability in a country dogged by 16 years of civil war, kicked off on July 15.

The meeting was requested by the international community and sponsored by the embattled transitional government of Prime Minister Ali Mohammed Gedi.

The government’s main Islamist foes, who were defeated earlier this year with the help of neighbouring Ethiopia, boycotted the conference, as did a large part of Mogadishu’s dominant Hawiye clan.

Some elders scoffed at the talks, the latest peace endeavour in a country that has defied a dozen initiatives to end the bloodshed that has continued almost uninterrupted since the 1991 ouster of dictator Mohammed Siad Barre.

“It started and elders met to drink coffee in a big hall but nobody seems able to explain what the real outcome is. I believe this congress was just a holiday break for elders from far away regions,” said Haji Adan Mohamed, a Hawiye elder.

He and many others at the conference and in the streets of Mogadishu pointed out that violence continued to escalate in the capital despite the peace talks.

“Although we have discussed several issues, there are many more to tackle,” said Amino Hasan Warsame, one of the few women participating in the conference. “Mogadishu, which is hosting the congress, is in flames and we should find ways of bringing all the stakeholders together including the insurgents,” she said, stressing it was crucial to follow up on the conference.

Observers have argued that any conference would have to be more inclusive and address the issue of the Ethiopian army’s departure if it was to yield any breakthrough in uniting the fractious country.

Islamist and other key opposition players will be holding their own meeting in the Eritrean capital, Asmara, on September 1, with a focus on demanding an end to Ethiopian occupation.

The government has blamed elements from the Islamic Courts Union, a militia which briefly controlled large parts of Somalia in 2006 before being ousted earlier this year, for the daily attacks in Mogadishu.

In recent months, insurgents have launched almost daily guerrilla-style attacks against government targets in the capital, killing dozens every week.

Civilians have borne the brunt of the violence, which has seen government troops often accused of indiscriminate raids in response to insurgent attacks.

Last week, a respected clan elder participating in the conference was killed by gunmen and three other delegates were wounded in grenade attacks against their hotels.—Sapa-AFP

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