Talks in Kenya "on course", says official

Organisers say the Somali peace talks underway in Kenya are on course, and contrary to reports, have not stalled.

James Kiboi, a member of the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) technical committee which is steering the talks, admitted that "some personalities are not at the talks", but that the proceedings were continuing.

He said the committee - which now comprises Kenya and Ethiopia - was trying to bring back those leaders who had left the talks. "We are still pursuing them and we have not given up on them, but even if they refuse to return the talks will continue," he told IRIN.

Among those absent from the talks are the president of Somalia's Transitional National Government Abdiqassim Salad Hassan, prominent Mogadishu-based faction leaders Muse Sudi Yalahow and Usman Hasan Ato, the leader of the Kismayo-based Juba Valley Alliance Col Barre Adan Hirale, and Muhammad Ibrahim Habsade of the Rahanweyn Resistance Army.

Kiboi said the talks had moved into their third and final phase, which concerned the distribution of future parliamentary seats. The various clans had been discussing "the sharing out of their allotted number of seats".

He denied suggestions that the talks had stalled, stressing that "the people who say this are people who don't know what is really going on at Mbgathi [the Nairobi venue of the talks]".

However, a diplomatic source close to the talks insisted that the talks were at an impasse and that very little was going on due to the absence of some important leaders. "The talks are at standstill, and IGAD needs to find a way to break the logjam," he told IRIN.

He added that IGAD was trying hard to persuade Abdiqassim to resume his participation. "There is hope that Abdiqassim can be prevailed upon to return," he said.

"The next two weeks will be decisive in these efforts," he noted. "IGAD has to give him [Abdiqassim] something to persuade him, not only to return but to bring most of his allies back with him."

The IGAD-sponsored talks opened in October 2002 in the western Kenyan town of Eldoret, but were moved to Nairobi in February this year. The proceedings have been dogged by wrangles over issues such as the interim charter, the number of participants and the selection of future parliamentarians.