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Somalia peace talks open

Hundreds of delegates have begun talks aimed at bringing peace to Somalia have opened in the town of Eldoret, in western Kenya, according to the French news agency, AFP.

The conference, organised by a regional grouping of east African countries, the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (Igad) brings together the heads of Somali factions, politicians and other community leaders.
Somalia has had 11 years of anarchy
Several factions say they will not attend but one of the key groups, the Somali Reconciliation and Restoration Council, has said it will send representatives.

The leader of one group, Osman Ali Atto, told the BBC he would be staying away because his faction had been allowed fewer delegates than a rival group.

In his opening address, Kenyan President Daniel arap Moi urged delegates to "heed the cry of their people" for peace, AFP reports.

This is Somalia's 16th attempt to hold peace talks.

Previous talks have collapsed and Tuesday's conference has already been postponed several times.

The prime minister of the Transitional National Government (TNG), Hassan Abshir Farah, was one of the first to arrive in Eldoret, reports AFP.

But the Associated Press (AP) agency reports that he initially refused to attend the opening ceremony because the Somali flag of a white star on a pale blue background was not flying.

Terrorist haven?

Foreign diplomats hope the talks will agree to a permanent, decentralised state.

AP reports that the United States has helped finance the talks and has become more interested in Somali affairs after reports that al-Qaeda operatives might flee there from Afghanistan.

Earlier this year, TNG President Abdulkassim Salat Hassan warned the United Nations that his country risked becoming a haven for terrorists if the international community did not help it establish a viable state.

But he promised to support US President George Bush's war on terror.

The talks are expected to last several months, with the first stage lasting about three weeks, reports AP.

Failed state

The TNG was set up in 2000 after months of talks in neighbouring Djibouti but it only controls parts of the capital, Mogadishu, and other patches of territory around the country.

Somalia's last recognised government - of dictator Siad Barre - was overthrown in 1991.

Since then, the country has descended into anarchy, with rival warlords fighting each other.

The TNG accuses Ethiopia of backing some of the warlords and trying to overthrow it.

Ethiopia in turn accuses the TNG of being allied to radical Islamist groups.

Igad organisers say that Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi will attend the talks.


Somalia Peace Conference to Open in Kenya

ELDORET, Kenya (Reuters) - Somali factions begin a peace conference in Kenya on Tuesday aiming to overcome years of failed reconciliation efforts and end a decade of anarchy in the broken Horn of Africa country.

Some 300 delegates comprised of faction leaders, government officials and civic groups were due to gather in the Kenyan town of Eldoret for the first phase of a series of talks expected to run for months.

Previous attempts to reconcile Somalia, which descended into chaos more than a decade ago, have been hindered by the failure of key warlords to attend, but organizers are optimistic many of Somalia's main players will participate.

Diplomats say the latest round of talks represent one of the most serious attempts yet to reconcile Somalia, carved into fiefdoms by warlords competing in the power vacuum left by the overthrow of military ruler Siad Barre in 1991.

The United States has taken a greater interest in Somalia since the September 11 attacks, viewing its anarchic regions as a potential haven for clandestine networks of extremists.

But given Somalia's long history of failed peace initiatives -- more than 10 in the past decade -- few observers hold out hope of a rapid breakthrough to end the fighting in the country of seven million.

The first phase of the talks are due to last several weeks and serve as a stepping stone to further rounds of negotiations to design a new, decentralized system of government for a united Somalia.

A Transitional National Government aiming to unite Somalia was established after a conference of clan elders in Djibouti in 2000, but the administration still only controls parts of the capital Mogadishu and other patches of territory





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