UN-sponsored reconciliation talks to open in Somalia

AFP , Monday 5 Sep 2011

Somalia's leaders open a national reconciliation conference in the war-shattered capital, seeking a better future after the failure of the UN-supported transitional government

Somalia's leaders opened a national reconciliation conference in the war-shattered capital on Sunday aimed at charting a future after the failure of the UN-backed transitional government.

"We are here to discuss the future of our country after the end of the transitional period," President Sharif Sheikh Ahmed said in his opening remarks to the conference, being held under tight security in Mogadishu.]

The main focus will be on winding up the seven-year-old transitional administration, which has failed to deliver on its main objectives of reconciling the country, writing a new constitution and holding elections.

Sharif said the UN-sponsored conference, drawing leaders from across the lawless country including breakaway Puntland and other semi-autonomous regions, was "paving the way" to the post transition period.

"It is an historic day and I hope that our discussions will bring credible ideas that bring Somalia's troubles to an end," Sharif said.

However, neither Somaliland, which broke away in 1991, nor the Shebab insurgents which have sworn to overthrow the government, are represented at the talks.

African Union peacekeepers deployed around the parliament talks venue in a city only recently vacated by Al-Qaeda-linked insurgents seeking to overthrow the fragile UN-backed Transitional Federal Government (TFG).

Government forces backed by 9,000 peacekeeping troops of the African Union mission AMISOM declared an important victory over Shebab insurgents who pulled out of Mogadishu on August 6, but the Islamists, who claimed the withdrawal was tactical, still control much of central and southern Somalia.

The security situation remains precarious in the capital, where a Malaysian camaraman was killed on Friday as he filmed a humanitarian mission.

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

The TFG 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.

UN special representative for Somalia Augustine Mahiga told reporters in Nairobi last week that the time has come to end the transition government and that this had been accepted by the Somali leadership and people.

"Change has to come," he said.

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

"We want to achieve what we have not achieved in the past seven years," said Mahiga.

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 $50 and $100 million dollars a year, while the 9,000-strong African Union force protecting it costs some $400 million per year.

The conflict in Somalia has worsened the humanitarian consequences of drought across the Horn of Africa, which the United Nations 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.

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