More twists in peace process

Members of Somalia's Transitional National Government (TNG) attending peace talks in Kenya have called on the conference organisers not to accept "obstruction and delaying tactics".

Prime Minister Hassan Abshir Farah, Speaker Abdallah Derow Isaak and other delegation members said they welcomed attempts to heal the rift in the talks by bringing back key leaders who had walked out.

But, they said, in a letter to conference chairman Ambassador Bethuel Kiplagat of Kenya, if the leaders refused to return "we should not accept obstruction and delaying tactics intended to derail the conference".

The TNG is effectively split into two factions after President Abdiqassim Salad Hassan returned to Mogadishu, unhappy over the adoption of a transitional charter which will serve as a blueprint for future Somali institutions.

In August, he sacked Abshir and Derow, and said the interim government would continue until new institutions were formed through free and fair elections. The TNG's mandate was due to end that same month, in accordance with the provisions of the Arta charter which established it.

A source close to the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) mediation team acknowledged there was some confusion over the TNG's status.

But, the source told IRIN, the TNG delegation in Nairobi had been endorsed by the Transitional National Assembly (TNA) which, he said, was the only authority mandated to change the composition of that delegation. According to him, most of the TNA members were in Kenya.

He said there was now a possibility of "slowing down the process" to try and persuade leaders who had walked out to return, and to bring Djibouti back on board. Djibouti, a member of the IGAD technical committee which is steering the talks, pulled out last week complaining of a lack of neutrality in the proceedings.

The source said the mediators were also considering reducing the number of delegates to the talks and organising a retreat for delegation leaders.

In addition to Abdiqassim, three other key faction leaders - Muse Sudi Yalahow, Osman Hassan Ali Ato and Bare Hiirale - have left the peace talks, angry over the transitional charter and what they see as attempts by Ethiopia to dominate the proceedings. Ethiopia has denied trying to interfere in the talks.

The issue was further complicated on Thursday after these three announced the formation of a rival grouping in Somalia, known as the Somali National Salvation, and said they would organise a national reconciliation conference of their own.

IGAD mediators downplayed the move. "This opposition alliance is not all-inclusive," one official told IRIN. "It is a tug of war - they are trying to persuade people who are here to go there, and we are trying to persuade them to come here. But most of the key leaders are here."