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Somali Elders Demand Ceasefire Before Reconciliation Conference

28 May 2007

In Somalia, elders of Mogadishu's dominant Hawiye clan have issued preconditions they say should be met before the Somali interim government hosts a national reconciliation conference next month. The demands follow warnings from government officials that the conference may have to be delayed for the third time because donor nations have not provided funding. VOA Correspondent Alisha Ryu has details from our East Africa Bureau in Nairobi.

VOA has learned that Hawiye clan elders delivered a statement last Friday to the national reconciliation conference chairman, Ali Mahdi Mohamed. Clan leaders listed three pre-conditions if the conference, scheduled for June 16, is to succeed in its goal of healing the country after 16 years of civil war.

The demands include a ceasefire to stop insurgents and Ethiopian and Somali troops from engaging in battles and killing civilians, the complete deployment of an 8,000 African Union peacekeeping force in Somalia to allow for a full withdrawal of Ethiopian troops from the country, and the sharing of the chairmanship of the peace conference with a representative from opposition groups to ensure fairness.

It is not known if the conference chairman has responded to the Hawiye demands.

The Hawiye clan is one of the largest in Somalia and the most dominant in the capital, Mogadishu.

Since the collapse of the Hawiye-based Islamist movement five months ago, many Hawiye sub-clan members have been angered by what they say are efforts by the interim President Abdullahi Yusuf to divide and weaken their clan. They have joined hardcore Islamist fighters in opposing the government and the thousands of Ethiopian troops protecting it.

Islamist fighters have also targeted Ugnadan troops in Mogadishu as the vanguard of an African Union peacekeeping force. Uganda has contributed about 1,500 soldiers, but security and funding concerns have discouraged other African countries from sending troops to Somalia.

The country's reconciliation conference has been delayed twice because of violence that has killed more than 1,500 people and caused nearly 400,000 people to flee the capital.

A prominent Hawiye sub-clan leader, Mohamed Uluso, predicts that the insurgency will not stop until the government can hold a peace conference that is transparent and acceptable to all sides.

"All the clans were not consulted with the preparation of this plan," said Uluso. "The independence of the commission responsible for the reconciliation is not clear. The participation or the role of the international community is not clear. What is the outcome expected from the reconciliation - reconciliation just between clans or a fundamental change of policy? All has to be defined. It is way too vague."

Western donors, including the United States and the European Union, have urged the interim government to hold a national reconciliation conference quickly and to include all Somali entities, including moderate elements of the Islamist movement and leaders of Hawiye sub-clans opposed to the government.

Donor countries have pledged to provide millions of dollars in funding to hold the talks.

But Somali government officials complain they have yet to receive the money. Last Tuesday, conference chairman Ali Mahdi Mohamed said the lack of funding had forced him to reduce the number of participants from 3,000 to 1,300.

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