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Stability in Somalia 'a dream'
Mogadishu, 3 July 2007- Elders from a dominant clan in Somalia's capital have met to consider co-operating with a fragile government 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.
The Hawiye clan, a mosaic of 19 often-competing sub-clans, was key to peace and stability in Somalia.
But, unity among Hawiye leaders - who included warlords anxious to maintain or regain power and wealth and radical Muslims hoping to establish an Islamic state - had proven difficult.
The only thing Hawiye clan members appeared to agree on was that the government did not represent them.
Govt to arrest more people
After two hours of talks on Monday, more than 300 Hawiye leaders suspended their meeting for two days because they could not agree on who should attend.
The government wanted the Hawiye at a reconciliation conference scheduled for July 15 and envisioned as a chance for elders to deal with past clan grievances.
Western diplomats had pushed hard for Somali President Abdullahi Yusuf to reconcile with his enemies, but so far his words of peace did not correspond with his actions.
The conference agenda itself fell short, in the view of some, because it would not address the make up of the government or its policies.
Sudan Ali Ahmed, chairperson of Elman Human Rights, an independent Somali group, said: "The government never released political prisoners as promised and continues to arrest more people each day.
"The problem is political, there is no clan-based problem. The talks should be political rather than cultural."
Mass arrests, curfews
As a result, almost every day Yusuf's government came under attack - suicide bombings, roadside explosions and ambushes. His security forces had tried mass arrests and curfews, but to no avail.
Yusuf had 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 neighbouring Ethiopia.
The Ethiopians remained, and had been joined by African Union peacekeepers - and that was one key grievance for the militants and most Hawiye leaders.
Abdulkar Hassan, a diplomat for Somalia in the 1980s and now a respected intellectual, said: "The radical Islamists, al-Shabab, have emerged in this country linked with al-Qaeda. They want to seize power through Islam.
"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".