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Somali Parliament's Peace Bid Bad For Gun Business
BAIDOA, Somalia, Mar 1, 2006 – Not every trader in Baidoa is making a killing from the legislators, bodyguards and monitors who have swarmed its streets for a historic meeting of Somalia's interim parliament.
Traders at Eltogte gun market say the government's effort to broker peace in its ranks is bad for business, especially now that their best customers -- the 1,000 or so militiamen who usually prowl Baidoa's streets -- have been forced out of town.
"Since the government moved to Baidoa, business has been very low. Gun prices have shot down sharply and I rarely sell guns anymore," gun dealer Wila Haji Mohamed, 44, said.
"I can't even feed my family now. This is why I'm against the government."
Before coming, the government reconciled the two warring factions that control Baidoa, a city of 800,000 located 240 km (150 miles) northwest of Mogadishu, to create a neutral site for both factions to meet and mend their rifts.
The interim assembly met on its anarchic home soil for the first time on Sunday. The last session ended in a brawl a year ago at a posh hotel in Kenya, where the government was formed at peace talks in late 2004.
The United Nations estimates there are over 1 million small arms circulating throughout Somalia -- enough to arm virtually every adult male. A 2003 U.N. report says over 1,250 arms flights come to the Horn of Africa nation every month.
Traders in the Baidoa market say prices for AK-47 assault rifles and ammunition have dropped by half since the government arrived.
"If it continues like this, I will be forced to oppose the government," gun dealer Adinur Hassan said, surrounded by 14 light and heavy machine guns. "If not, I request the government to buy the weapons from me."
GOOD FOR BUSINESS
For nearly everyone but gun dealers, business is booming around the parliament meeting.
What used to be the old, empty shell of the agricultural cooperation building has been refurbished, re-carpeted, and re-roofed to house the parliament.
Abdillahi Ali Maalim, 28, has seen his timber business spike as houses are being built at an increasing rate to accommodate MPs and other Somalis.
"I used to sell 70 pieces of timber until the government arrived here and now I'm selling thrice that. The demand is getting higher and higher," he said.
Tea vendor Mandeq Abdillahi, 19, wants the government to keep things calm so her business keeps its current brisk pace.
"I support the government and hope it will improve security in Baidoa so that we can do our business in peace," she said.
Two local warlords met with President Abdillahi Yusuf on Tuesday to discuss how to transform 1,000 militiamen into police.
The idea has been floated many times as a way for Somalia to turn one of its most persistent menaces, militiamen, into a force to rein in the anarchy that has prevailed for 15 years.
Conflict and famine have killed hundreds of thousands since the country of 10 million plunged into lawlessness in 1991 after the ousting of dictator Mohamed Siyad Barre.