Somali leaders launch reconciliation bid

Three-day conference in Mogadishu aims to resolve 20 years of turmoil and set up plans for a new government.

    Somali leaders have begun a three-day national reconciliation conference in an effort to end 20 years of turmoil and set up plans for a new government.

    African Union peacekeepers were deployed around the talks' venue in the capital, Mogadishu, on Sunday on Sunday.

    "It is an historic day and I hope that our discussions will bring credible ideas that bring Somalia's troubles to an end," Sharif Ahmed, the president of the transitional Somali government, said at the opening of the talks.

    Also attending the conference were the president of Somalia's breakaway Puntland region, Ibrahim Mohamed Mohamud; the leader of the semi-autonomous central Galmudug region; and members of a pro-government Sufi militia, Ahlu Sunna Wal Jamaa.

    However, neither Somaliland, which broke away in 1991, nor al-Shabab fighters, who retreated from Mogadishu last month but remain in control of most of the south and centre of the country, are being represented at the meeting.

    The talks, which are scheduled to run through Tuesday, will focus on improving security, national reconciliation, a new constitution, governance and parliamentary reforms.

    "We have only one year to accomplish the prioritised tasks ... This roadmap should give us a chance to realise peace in Somalia that has eluded us in the last 20 years," Augustine Mahiga, the UN representative for Somalia, said, referring the plan under discussion.

    "This roadmap, unlike before, there are going to be timelines, there are going to be compliance mechanisms and there is going to be oversight by the political leaders of the whole region."

    Constant civil war

    Somalia has been in a state of almost constant civil war since the overthrow of Mohamed Siad Barre as president 20 years ago, despite several internationally-backed attempts to install a central authority.

    The Transitional Federal Government itself has had two presidents and five prime ministers since its inauguration in 2004.

    None of Somalia's interim governments have ever been able to extend their authority nationwide due to complex clan politics and internecine feuds.

    The mandate of the Somali government was to end last month, but Sharif and the parliament speaker signed an agreement in June in Kampala extending their mandates by a year. Parliament earlier this year unilaterally extended its mandate for three years.

    Running the Somali government costs donors between $50m and $100m dollars a year, while the 9,000-strong African Union force protecting it costs about $400m per year.

    The conflict in Somalia has worsened the humanitarian consequences of drought across the Horn of Africa, which the UN says is the worst in decades.

    The UN has declared a famine in several regions of the country and said on Saturday that the situation in the country was worsening, and that almost all the regions in the south could face famine. Half of the 10 million population needs food aid.

    Nuradin Dirie, an analyst specialising in the Horn of Africa, told Al Jazeera that unless the Mogadishu talks involve plans for a political solution in the country, the famine will continue to put the refugees at greater risk, no matter how much money is pledged.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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