First Published: 2005-03-22

Deep divisions among Somali government

Governmentís plans to relocate from exile in chaos amid bitter disagreements over timing, destination.


Middle East Online

By Bogonko Bosire - NAIROBI

Delayed again

Somalia's transitional government-in-exile met here Tuesday in a bid to bridge deep divisions over plans to relocate to the war-shattered nation that are now in chaos, officials said.

Amid bitter disagreements over the timing and destination of the eventual move that led to a walk-out by several ministers at a meeting on Monday, the cabinet gathered again to try to hammer out details, officials said.

But with inter-clan tensions that led to a fistfight last week over peacekeepers among Somali lawmakers still running high, there was no indication that Tuesday's meeting would yield any immediate consensus, the officials said.

"It appears to be a revenge game, nobody will let go of his position," one Somali minister said on condition of anonymity.

The walk-out at Monday's cabinet meeting came after prime minister Mohammed Ali Gedi proposed an indefinite delay in the relocation and suggested that the government not set up shop in the capital, Mogadishu, when it moves, they said.

Instead, Gedi proposed that the government, which has been in exile in Kenya for security reasons since it was created here last October, move to either Baidoa or Jowhar when it eventually makes the move, the officials said.

His plans were met with howls of protest from ministers, some of them warlords themselves, who insisted that the government move to the capital and angrily left the meeting, the officials said.

An official in Gedi's office said President Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed was unwilling to relocate to Mogadishu, which is controlled by warlords from the dominant Hawiye clan, a rival to the president's Darod faction.

"The warlords insist that if the government is to relocate, it will move to Mogadishu, but the president and his prime minister are not keen on that because they fear for their security there," the official said.

"Mogadishu is the capital," said Somali construction minister and Mogadishu warlord Osman Ali Ato, one of those who stormed out of the cabinet meeting.

Ato noted that a group of more than 100 Somali MPs from the Hawiye clan had formed a committee last week to travel to Mogadishu to prepare for the government's relocation but failed to get backing from Gedi and Yusuf.

Despite the rancour, many Somali watchers believe Jowhar, 90 kilometers (56 miles) north of Mogadishu and controlled by warlord Mohammed Dere, is the odds-on favorite to serve as an interim capital.

The southern town of Baidoa, which is held by three warlords, is considered unsafe after militiamen blocked Yusuf and his entourage from visiting last month in a dispute over airport landing rights.

There has been widespread confusion and uncertainty over the government's stated relocation plans for some time.

Under pressure to move from their Kenyan hosts and regional states, Somali leaders have several times since December announced the imminent relocation of the government, but each time the target date has passed without action.

Previous unmet timetables have set January, mid-February and early March as dates for the move, but many analysts believe the relocation cannot realistically begin until July or August.

The Horn of Africa country has been in chaos without any functioning central authority since the ouster of strongman Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991 turned the nation into a patchwork of fiefdoms ruled by warlords.

An already strained relationship between Gedi and warlords worsened last week when lawmakers fought in parliament over the inclusion of Ethiopia, Djibouti and Kenya in a regional peacekeeping force planned to help the government relocate.

The dispute over the government's relocation has been fanned by a threat from Gedi, who supports the participation of the three nations, to sack opposed warlords from the cabinet, officials said.


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