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Somali Warlords Debate Fight Against Government
NAIROBI, Sept 20, 2005 (Reuters) – Warlords opposed to Somali government leaders based in Jowhar met on Tuesday to debate whether to attack or reconcile, underscoring the deep stalemate and potential for war in Somalia's latest attempt to find peace.
The warlords, most of whom are cabinet ministers in the government and favour Mogadishu as the capital, see the president's base in provincial Jowhar and his massing of fighters there as a sign of imminent attack.
Since it was formed in neighboring Kenya in 2004, President Abdullahi Yusuf's interim government has been split over where it should be based while security is restored in the Horn of Africa nation, without effective central authority since 1991.
Warlords in control of Mogadishu, Juba, Lower Shabelle and Bay regions were debating at Tuesday's meeting whether they should convene in coming days in Ba'lad and simultaneously mass their militiamen and heavy weapons there, witnesses in the Somali capital told Reuters by telephone.
To move the militias to Ba'lad -- outside Mogadishu on the way to Jowhar where thousands of troops loyal to the government are based -- would likely be seen as a provocation.
Spokesmen for Yusuf and his ally Prime Minister Mohamed Ali Gedi in Jowhar, which lies 90 km (56 miles) north of Mogadishu, could not immediately be reached for comment.
A source at the meeting, who declined to be named, told Reuters by telephone that the warlords were split over whether they should move to Ba'lad. Some fear it would provoke a war, while others argue that they should strike first.
The bellicose sentiments left war-weary Mogadishu residents hopeful the meeting would produce a peaceful answer.
"We don't want them to fight. The militia who are in Jowhar are the brothers of these in Mogadishu. We need to end the conflict," said Ahmed Warsame, a 55-year-old moneychanger in Mogadishu's Bakara market.
"We need a hand of peace and not war," he said by phone.
In a poll conducted by local radio station HornAfrik this week in Mogadishu, 80 percent of residents said they were apprehensive about war and urged the feuding leaders to end hostilities and return to dialogue.
"We are suffering. Hundreds die at sea trying to run from the conflict while many are killed in the senseless conflict, They have to meet each other and end the rifts," Mogadishu businessman Bashir Dirie, 40, said.
Somalia has been without a central government since warlords ousted former dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991, plunging the nation of approximately 10 million people into anarchy.