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At U.N. Conference, Warring Somali Factions Told to Stop

By Jennifer Parmelee
The Washington Post

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia

Leaders of Somalia's warring factions opening a United Nations conference on national reconciliation here Monday were urged to bury their differences and were warned that continued fighting could spell the end of international largess.

The conference is aimed at strengthening a rickety cease-fire and starting a broad-based process to restore normal administration and political life to Somalia after more than two years of civil war. It brings together the widest range of Somali leadership since the devastating conflict began in January 1991 with the ouster of President Mohamed Siad Barre.

Abdul Megid Hossein, representing the Ethiopian government, which negotiated a cease-fire and other accords at the last round of peace talks in January, said time is running out for Somali leaders to convince the world that they are capable of forging a genuine peace.

"This conference is being viewed with a lot of skepticism, and not without good cause," Abdul Megid told the opening session of the U.N. conference. "It is only you who can change this image as well as prove that you are not prepared to abdicate responsibility.... The ball is now firmly in your court."

He urged "punitive measures" against Somali factions who breach security arrangements, saying this would not only isolate obstacles to the process of national reconciliation but "enhance the credibility of those who are involved in Somalia as peace-makers."

At least half of the conference's 250 participants -- intellectuals, clan elders, and religious and women's leaders -- were said by U.N. organizers to fall outside the narrow confines of the political factions that have divided the Horn of Africa nation into armed fiefdoms.

The political process is being broadened to give a voice to these Somalis, who provide an alternative to the factional leaders, according to diplomatic, U.N. and Somali sources. Some observers feel the process ultimately will put the factional warlords out of a job.

"Their arsenals have been raided, thousands of their weapons and millions of rounds of ammunition destroyed," said one Western diplomat. "Their power base is being eroded, and the emergence of alternative forces should marginalize them still further."

Yet while the warlords were dressed down in public for security violations, and many observers talked hopefully of their demise, they remain the main Somali players on the pivotal issues of peace and security.