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Leaders To Discuss Somali Peace

November 26, 1999

NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) _ With the power of Somali warlords on the wane, African regional leaders are gathering to talk about peace in the violence-ridden nation.

The leaders, all members of the regional Inter-governmental Authority on Development, will meet today in neighboring Djibouti to discuss a peace plan put forth by Djibouti President Ismael Omar Guelleh.

Peace in Somalia has been an improbable prospect until now. The country has been divided into warring fiefdoms since political rivals ousted President Mohammed Siad Barre in 1991, and in the intervening years a dozen peace proposals have come to naught, scuttled by one warlord or another.

But the latest move toward peace comes as support for the warlords is fading in Somalia. They cannot pay fighters or buy weapons, and at least one is reportedly facing challenges to his leadership. Seizing the momentum, businessmen in the capital, Mogadishu, have begun funding Islamic courts whose private militia police the city.

In a speech to the U.N. General Assembly in September, Guelleh chastised the warlords for their ``dismal failure ... to live up to anything during this long, intractable civil war.″

Guelleh’s plan calls for the warlords to disarm and turn their factions into political parties. Under the plan, the warlords would submit to the authority of a formal legal system and accept international help in re-establishing a national government.

The warlords are divided over the plan. But African regional governments, Arab League states, the United States and the European Union have endorsed it.

Governments and humanitarian organizations active in other divided countries have adopted a low profile in Somalia in recent years, especially after gunmen plundered relief food during a 1992 famine and 18 U.S. soldiers were killed in Mogadishu in 1994.

``Somalia’s civil society has had several years to think about why the world turned the other way,″ said David Stephen, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s special representative for Somalia. ``Many Somalis have come to the conclusion that they can find another way.″

Two warlords who back the peace plan _ Abdullahi Yussuf Ahmed and Mohamed Saeed Hirsi, known as Morgan _ said they are hopeful that, with enough outside support, Somalia can achieve peace this time.

``Those so-called leaders, or warmongers, must understand ... that with the entire Somali population fed up with war, they will lose,″ Yussuf said.

Some observers, though, are skeptical about the chances of the Ethiopian-backed initiative at a time when the Ethiopia-Eritrea war has spilled over into Somalia. Eritrea has armed warlord Hussein Aidid, and Ethiopia is backing his rivals.

The IGAD members are Ethiopia, Djibouti, Kenya, Sudan, Uganda and Eritrea. Eritrea will not attend the summit because of bad relations with Djibouti, which backs Ethiopia in the war.