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Somali elders search for peace
United Nations Peacekeepers, Ugandan soldiers, prepare to destroy weapons and ammunition which were capture in recent weeks, by safely detonating them at Jazeera beach in outskirts of Mogadishu, Monday, July 2, 2007. Elders from the dominant clan in Somalia's capital met on Monday to consider cooperating with a fragile government which is struggling to bring peace to the embattled country, but the future is fraught with religious and clan differences that make stability only a distant dream. (AP Photo/Mohamed Sheikh Nor)
NAIROBI, Kenya, July 2, 2007 - Almost every day, Somalia's government comes under attack - suicide bombings, roadside explosions, ambushes. Security forces have tried mass arrests and curfews, but to no avail.
The key is solving religious and clan differences - and the challenge of bringing one of the nation's largest clans into the process shows why stability and prosperity remain a distant dream.
The Hawiye clan is a mosaic of 19 often-competing sub-clans. Unity among Hawiye leaders - who include warlords anxious to maintain or regain power and wealth, and radical Muslims hoping to establish an Islamic state - has proven difficult. The only thing Hawiye clan members appear to agree on is that the current government does not represent them.
After two hours of talks Monday, more than 300 Hawiye leaders suspended their meeting for two days because they could not agree on who should attend.
The government wants the Hawiye at a reconciliation conference scheduled for July 15 and envisioned as a chance for elders to deal with clan grievances.
Western diplomats have pushed hard for Somali President Abdullahi Yusuf to reconcile with his enemies, but so far his words of peace do not correspond with his actions. The conference agenda itself falls short, in the view of some, because it will not address the makeup of the government or its policies.
"The government never released political prisoners as promised and continues to arrest more people each day," said Sudan Ali Ahmed, chairman of Elman Human Rights, an independent Somali group. "The problem is political; there is no clan-based problem. The talks should be political rather than cultural."
Yusuf has invited Hawiye leaders from all the sub-clans to attend the reconciliation conference, even the men representing the political arm of the Islamic militants he managed to push out of Mogadishu late last year with help from troops from Ethiopia.
The Ethiopians remain, and have been joined by African Union peacekeepers - and that is one key grievance for the militants and most Hawiye leaders.
"The radical Islamists, al-Shabab, have emerged in this country linked with al-Qaida. They want to seize power through Islam," said Abdulkar Hassan, a diplomat for Somalia in the 1980s and now a respected intellectual. "Other groups oppose the government because they want the top government positions to go to their clans ...."
The leader of the Islamic extremists, Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed, said in a statement that his group "sees the only way that Somali problems can be solved is through sincere and just dialogue." But he has conditions: "The withdrawal of invading foreign troops from our
country; finding a neutral venue and preparing a conducive environment for the conference to take place; allowing all different Somali parts to take part in the preparation and drawing up the agendas of the conference; allowing all different Somali parts to take part in the talks."
He went on to reject the reconciliation conference as "not reflecting Somali interests. Moreover, it is not aimed at ending or solving the existing Somali problems; it serves the interests of the enemy that invaded the country."
These demands, which are often echoed by Hawiye warlords, essentially ask the government to commit suicide. With no outside military support and an open agenda, the government will cease to exist and a new one would have to be formed from scratch. The last time that happened, it took two years of anarchy and millions in foreign dollars for clan elders to create a government. The United Nations and Western diplomats say any negotiations for a new power-sharing deal would at best escalate the chaos and return the warlords to power, or at worst empower Islamic radicals sympathetic to al-Qaida.
Abdi Hassan, a school principal in the Somali city of Kismayo, thinks it may already be too late. Anti-government militias already control much of the countryside in southern Somalia, and they are buying guns.
"After the government massacred many Hawiye civilians in the capital, clans started to regroup in other towns outside of Mogadishu and are preparing to launch a retaliatory strikes," he said. Abdulkar Hassan, the former diplomat, said his countrymen's hopes are modest.
"The Somali people want a stable government because bad government is better than none."
Associated Press Writers Salad Duhul and Mohamed Olad Hassan in Mogadishu, Somalia, and Nasteex Farah in Kismayo, Somalia, contributed to this report.