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Somali Leaders Praise Peace Deal

December 23, 1997

MOGADISHU, Somalia (AP) _ Religious and political leaders lauded a power-sharing agreement among rival Somali factions Tuesday, a pact they hope will restore the national government of this war-torn nation on the Horn of Africa.

The factions signed a complex deal in Cairo on Monday and agreed to a national reconciliation conference Feb. 15 to elect the first government since 1991. The ``Somali Declaration of Principles″ also called for a ceasefire and withdrawal of forces.

``This is the first light of peace for Somalia,″ said Muslim leader Sheikh Mohamed Moallim Hassan.

Mohamed Hirey, a pharmacist, called the deal ``the last chance for peace.″

In Cairo, the U.S. Information Service said the United States was encouraged by the agreement but would wait ``to see what the agreement accomplishes in Somalia, and to what extent it is accepted by the broader Somali population.″

The cooperation of the country’s two main warlords, Ali Mahdi Mohamed and archrival Hussein Mohamed Aidid, leader of the most powerful Somali faction, was vital for the deal.

Mahdi and Aidid agreed to allot 80 seats for each faction at the proposed 465-member conference in the central Somali town of Baidoa. The conference will elect a 13-member presidential council that will then chose a president and prime minister.

The remaining seats at the conference will be divided among other clans and sub-clans.

Past agreements to end the fighting among at least 26 armed factions have broken down. If this one succeeds, it would give Somalia its first real government since January 1991, when rebel factions drove out dictator Mohamed Siad Barre.

After Barre’s ouster, the clan-based groups turned on each other. Some 350,000 people died in the ensuing fighting and a 1992 famine.

An American-led U.N. peacekeeping mission landed in Somalia in 1992 to guard food convoys, but it was forced to withdraw in 1995 after it became bogged down in fighting and dozens of peacekeepers were killed.

The negotiations in Cairo began Nov. 12 and were sponsored by Egypt and the Cairo-based Arab League.

Only two Somali leaders rejected the deal, but their refusal to sign was not considered detrimental to the pact.

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