The organisers of the peace talks being held under the auspices of the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) were in a buoyant mood after Somali leaders resolved some of the most contentious issues that have plagued the negotiations, a source close to the talks told IRIN on Monday.
Another source at IGAD told IRIN that a breakthrough had been made and Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni and Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki were likely to officiate at the signing of a new compromise agreement between the Somali leaders later this week.
"We [had] expected that agreement to be signed in the presence of the presidents on Tuesday, but it will now be signed on Wednesday. An official communique will be issued," the IGAD source said.
The talks were then expected to move to the final phase, which would deal with the thorny issue of power-sharing, the source said.
The Somali leaders have been engaged in what organisers describe as "consultative meetings" at a Nairobi hotel since 9 January, when Museveni, the current IGAD chairman, launched a fresh effort to revive the peace talks.
These meetings replaced a retreat originally due to have opened in Mombasa on 9 December, but postponed until 18 December, then again until 9 January - which was seen as an opportunity to jump-start the process.
"The informal meetings between the leaders seem to have had the desired effect: they broke the log jam," Awad Ashara, the spokesman for the self-declared region of Puntland in northeastern Somalia, told IRIN. "This [compromise] has brought back all the leaders to the talks," he added.
The leaders have reportedly agreed on amendments to a controversial interim charter which was adopted in July last year by the delegates to the talks, but rejected as "flawed" by the Transitional National Government and some factions.
A statement issued at the time by the conference organisers said the delegates had agreed that parliament would comprise 351 members; the life of the transitional parliament would be four years; and MPs would be selected by the political leaders who had been party to the Declaration on the Cessation of Hostilities signed in Eldoret on 27 October 2002, and by politicians originally officially invited by the Technical Committee in consultation with the traditional leaders.
The compromise amendments reportedly reduce the number of MPs from 351 to 275, with 12 percent seats set aside for women. The selection of MPs is also specified in the proposed compromise as designed "to address the concerns" of those who had rejected the July agreement. Selection will now be effected by clan political leaders and must be endorsed by "recognised traditional elders". The duration of the transitional period will now be five years.
The leaders agreed that these amendments would come into force after the conference plenary adopted them and after endorsement by the Transitional National Assembly in Mogadishu. This was seen as a formality, since all leaders had agreed to it, a diplomatic source involved in the talks told IRIN.
"It is a compromise agreement, and we welcome anything that will bring the Somali people together," said Ashara.
The mood at the Safari Park [Hotel where the talks are being held] is buoyant," said the diplomat. "It looks as if they [the leaders] have made a breakthrough."
Meanwhile, the leaders who have been boycotting the talks have returned. They include the 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; Muhammad Ibrahim Habsade of the Rahanweyn Resistance Army; and Col Abdirazzaq Isaq Bihi of the Gedo-based Somali National Front.