Nairobi peace talks to go ahead

Peace talks aimed at bringing about reconciliation between the Transitional National Government (TNG) and factions opposed to it, which were due to open in Nairobi on Thursday, will now start on Friday, a Kenyan government source told IRIN.

The talks, which were convened by Kenyan President Daniel Arap Moi, had been thrown into doubt by the refusal of some key faction leaders to participate. The Somali Reconciliation and Restoration Council (SRRC), a grouping of southern factions opposed to the TNG, said in a statement they would not take part in the talks, the Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported on 11 December. The SRRC it was refusing to take part "because the TNG was claiming to be the legitimate government".

However, Hasan Muhammad Nur Shatigadud, the chairman of the Rahanweyn Resistance Army (RRA), and current holder of the rotating chairmanship of the SRRC, said that the group was boycotting the talks "to avoid polarisation and conflicts of interest". "The SRRC believes that a unified coordinated stand among IGAD [Intergovernmental Authority on Development] states is required before any effort by individual countries is undertaken", Reuters news agency quoted him as saying on Tuesday.

Western diplomatic sources involved in the talks told IRIN that Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi would not come to Nairobi. "Whether the Ethiopians will send someone else or not is not clear," the source added.

A spokesman for the TNG told IRIN the TNG would be in Nairobi "in strength". The TNG director of information, Abdirahman Dinari, said the TNG delegation would be led by Prime Minster Hasan Abshir and "will make every effort to make the talks a success". Abshir announced on Monday that he was delaying the announcement of a new government until he knew which of the government's former opponents would be willing to join the TNG. The TNG delegation was expected in Nairobi on Thursday afternoon.

With senior SRRC members refusing to attend the Nairobi talks, it remains unclear what the meeting will be able to achieve. Regional experts in Nairobi told IRIN that without the presence of big-name SRRC people like Shatigadud, "it is unlikely there will be a major breakthrough".