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  • Title: [SW News] DJIBOUTI, 1 July (IRIN) IRIN  Interview with the Chairman of the Somali Peace Conference, Hassan Abshire Farah
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  • Date :[2 July 2000]


IRIN Interview with the Chairman of the Somali Peace Conference, Hassan Abshire Farah

DJIBOUTI, 1 July (IRIN) - In an interview with IRIN, chairman of the Somali National Peace Conference, Hassan Abshire Farah, said the forum was a unique opportunity for Somalis to elect a government after a decade of civil war. A former mayor of Mogadishu, Hassan Abshire was appointed Minister of Interior in 1998 for the newly autonomous Puntland region, north-eastern Somalia - but resigned this April when leader Abdullahi Yusuf refused to allow participation in the Djibouti peace process. On June 15th, he was elected chairman of the conference, along with co-chairman Abdalla Deerow (of the Rahanwein Resistance Army). The conference is being held in Arta, 30 km from the Djibouti capital.
Q: Who has come to the Djibouti peace process?

A: This is the thirteenth peace conference. There have been thirteen attempts at reconciliation, hosted in different countries, including Ethiopia and Egypt. But this type of conference is a first. This is different. Before, only warlords were invited. Here we have elders, sultans, kings and religious leaders from all the Somalis. We have intellectuals, former politicians, businessmen and women. There are also many representatives from the Somali diaspora. So we have all sections of civil society.

Q: But it is a clan-based process?

A: Yes. It is clan-based, of course, but that is just how it is organised. In Somalia, people belong to clans; civil society belongs to clans. So we have NGOs, intellectuals and women, but it is organised on a clan basis.

Q: Are all Somali clans represented here?

A: Yes, all clans are represented from every corner of Somalia. It is an inclusive process. Even the Issak from Somaliland are represented here (the clan of Mohamed Ibrahim Egal, leader of Somaliland, who has rejected the process). They are part of the delegation and they have told us they are, as the Issak, full representatives of Somaliland.

Q: Is it a problem that some faction leaders have rejected the conference and remain in Somalia?

A: We need all Somalis to come here, because we don't want opposition when we finish the process. So yes, we want the faction leaders to come. We appealed several times for them to come to Djibouti, especially Kanyare, Abdullahi Yusuf, Hussein Aideed, and Egal. We need all the warlords to come and to sit with us here and try to solve our differences in a peaceful way. We want to establish that dialogue.

Q: Do you think they will come?

A: We have signals now that those in Mogadishu will join us next week (from July 1). Hussein Aideed, Musa Sude, Osman Ato and Kanyare have indicated that they will come to the conference.

Q: Abdullahi Yusuf in Puntland has been the most aggressive in his rejection of the conference, and looks unlikely to change his mind.

A: Well, there are some people close to Abdullahi Yusuf who are trying to persuade him to change his stance. But I know him very well and I don't think he will come. Anyway, the point is he has lost the confidence of our people. Ethiopia sent a general to Puntland to talk to him. Ethiopia managed to take General Morgan to Addis Ababa and talk to him; even if General Morgan does not come to the conference I think he would accept the result. But generally, I think the people we have here are close enough to these warlords, and the Djibouti government has made the invitation clear. By having people here very close to the remaining warlords we can continue to try and persuade them and stay in contact with them. The majority have been contacted and that is what is important.

Q: And when the faction leaders arrive, do they get a place in the official delegations?

A: That is not our job. Every clan has its own way of dealing with that, and will sort it out among their own people. The delegations are not being expanded.

Q: Are the political leaders needed?

A: Not all politicians remain in Somalia, some are here already. We have Ali Mahdi Mohamed, and Mohamed Abshire, Hussein Bod and Shatgudud. Any leader or politician who comes here won't get special consideration or treatment. He's like us, like me; we are all equal. If Somali people decide to elect them and support them it is up to the people, but there is no automatic status for faction leaders, no special consideration for warlords. When they request to talk they get three minutes like everyone else, then they have to sit down. If they think they are entitled to an hour because they are a warlord, they are wrong.

Q: Is the next big step electing the Transitional National Assembly?

A: No, first we have to draw up and debate the Charter and the Constitution and we have to talk about the form of government. We have to talk about how to represent people equally. We have nominated committees who are now discussing the Charter, disarmament, development and social services, and the status of Mogadishu. These committees have to prepare their reports and present the options to the conference. The proposals are being typed up, they will be distributed and discussed. ­It all takes time.

Q: But the Djibouti government is under great financial pressure to conclude this process.

A: Yes, the Djibouti government would have liked to finish the conference on July 1, which is Somalia independence day. But we have been to see President Ismael Omar Guelleh and requested him not to hurry the process. It was agreed that we should aim to finish around July 14-15. They have accepted we need time.

Q: It's rumoured that there is already a list of 38 presidential candidates.

A: (laughs) No, no! Up to now, actually, the Hawiye have been putting names down as presidential candidates. There is a list of maybe 15- 16. But otherwise the process is in the making, and clans are beginning to select among themselves who should be candidates.

Q: Will the president be a ceremonial head, or a political head?

A: The conference will debate that. We need to decide whether the president is elected by parliament, or by the conference itself. Those are two options to look at. It will then be the job of the prime minister and president to appoint members of government and develop policies. I personally hope the conference will agree to elect members of parliament before a prime minister and president is elected.

Q: How will the government go back to Somalia?

A: That is up to the elected government to decide. That is their task. Maybe they will need time to prepare for the transfer; but it is not going to be a government in exile.

Q: Are you worried about how the new government will be received?

A: We are not worried because we know we have the support of the people and the international community. The international community must know that this conference is the best - that ­there never was anything better for Somalia­ and that all Somalis are represented.



IRIN Guide To The Somali National Peace Conference


Story Filed: Friday, June 30, 2000 4:24 PM EST

Djibouti (IRIN) (UN Integrated Regional Information Network, June 30, 2000) - The Somali National Peace Conference was originally conceived in March 1998 by the regional body Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD).

After the Somali state collapsed in 1991, 13 conferences variously hosted or convened by the US, UN, Ethiopia and Egypt failed to make significant progress, leaving Somalia without a central government for nearly a decade. Faction leaders maintained tenuous control of clan- defined areas in the south, including the capital, Mogadishu; Somaliland, in the northwest declared itself an independent republic in 1991, adopting the old British Somaliland boundaries; and Puntland in the northeast became an autonomous region.

In 1998 the chair of IGAD, former Djibouti president, Hassan Guled Aptidon, asserted that any Somali peace process should be moved away from the faction leaders and warlords. The initiative to hold the next conference in Djibouti was taken in March-April 1999 when newly elected Djiboutian president, Ismail Omar Guelleh, took over the IGAD chair. Djibouti negotiated with Ethiopia to move the Somali peace mandate to the current chairman. The importance of "civil society" - namely academics, NGOs and women - had been recognised in 1993 in the second UN-organised conference in Addis Ababa, but the delegations had been sidelined while peace and power negotiations revolved around faction and militia leaders.

The IGAD initiative converged with a movement among Somali academics to hold a national conference based on civil society in Djibouti. Djibouti was proposed as the most suitable environment, as a Somali state, with no language barriers: but is not accepted as neutral by all. A Djibouti-hosted conference in 1991 had played a disastrous role when politicians and businessmen elected Hawiye businessman Ali Mahdi Mohamed as president. He was immediately challenged by fellow Hawiye aspirant, former ambassador and military leader, General Mohamed Farah Aideed. Clan-led battles revolving around land, economic and power issues pulled in other armed clan alliances across the country. Famine, killings, and the unprecedented destruction of the Somali state and its capital Mogadishu eventually resulted in a US-led military intervention in 1992, which failed to curb the power of the warlords. Intervention ended in the deaths of UN peacekeepers, US troops, and hundreds of Somalis, and led to effective international abandonment of a country without government, institutions or basic services.

Once the Djibouti initiative had international and regional backing - although often tinged by scepticism and fear of security repercussions - a general invitation was put out, directed at Somali traditional leaders and civil society. Djiboutian delegations travelled to different regions to encourage attendance. Somaliland and Puntland administrations rejected the conference, as did faction leaders in Mogadishu. Conference representatives say, however, that all the main clans are now represented and most of the sub-clans. The conference, held in Arta, 30 km from the capital, has the official backing of the UN Secretary- General, the Arab League, the Organisation of African Unity, as well as IGAD. It aims in July to elect a Transitional National Council, a President and a Prime Minister.

The structure

Established in March, a Technical Committee was established made up of some of the key academics (many expatriate since the early 1990s) who campaigned for a peace process based on civil society since establishing the Somali Intellectuals Forum in 1993. The Technical Committee has eight members and liaised with the Djibouti government, until an all- Somali conference committee was elected 15 May.

Technical Committee:

Professor Mohamed Abdi Gandi (coordinator, member of Somali Intellectuals Forum; based in Germany as Director of NGO Somali Peaceline); Zakaria Mohamed Haji-Abdi (Secretary General, head of Secretariat for Selection and Drafting Committee; founder member of Somali Intellectuals Forum, based in London); Ahmed Abdi Dahir "Shell" (deputy coordinator of Somalia Technical Committee; former member of Somali Intellectuals Forum); Jama Ali Jama (head of Public Relations Section); Mohamed Ahmed Awale ( member of National Transitional Constitution Committee; former advisor to General Mohamed Aideed); Abdirahman Moallim (member of National Transitional Constitution Committee); Mohamed Abdi Ali Bayr (member of Drafting Committee); Omar Adam Kadi (member of Drafting Committee).

The Technical Committee continued to work closely with members of the Djibouti government - from the foreign ministry and the president's office - while about a thousand Somalis from Somalia and the diaspora arrived to participate. They were mainly accommodated in Arta and in various hotels in Djibouti itself. The conference resolved to establish clan delegations, and a six-member Conference Committee was elected. There was initial reluctance on the part of academics and NGO members to organise the conference on clan basis, but it was eventually decided that clan was a crucial organisation factor.

Clan organisation

Conference Committee:

Hassan Abshire Farah (chairman, former Mayor of Mogadishu; ambassador to Japan and Germany. Appointed Minister of Interior by Abdulahi Yusuf in Puntland, but resigned in April to attend Djibouti Conference. Mujerteen, living mainly in Garowe with US-based family); Abdalla Deerow (co-chairman, deputy of Rahanwien Resistance Army; studied education at Mogadishu University. Digilmirifle living in Baidoa); Asha Haji Elmi (chairperson of Women's Association, NGO, Mogadishu; economist, studied at University of Mogadishu. Hawiye, living in Mogadishu); Abdullahi Maalim "Faar" (former director in Ministry of Labour and Sports, Siad Barre regime; Hawiye, based in Nairobi); Abdulaziz Mukhtar Qaridi (political scientist, University of Mogadishu, representing minority groups. Jarer); Abdulrahman Duale Ali (president of United Somali Front; Issa).

Clan delegations:

Clan elders met to decide the relative size of clan delegations and chose representatives for the following fixed-number delegations: Darod (175), Hawiye (175) and Digilmirifle (175); Dir (205) including Issak 100, Gadabursi 40, Issa 30, Southern Dir 35; Alliance of minorities (90) including (not exclusively) Jareer, Midgaan and Yibir. Women (100). Some women are also included in the clan delegations.

Delegations: guide to traditional heads and politicians

Dir: (Southern Dir: Ugas Said Ali; Issak: Sultan Mohamed, Sultan Abdulkadir) Gadabursi: Sultan Suleban Ali, Sultan Ugas Osman, Ugas Dodi; Issa: Farah Weis Dule, Abdulrahman Duale Ali, USF) Hawiye: (Iman Omar, Iman Mohamed); Marehan: (Geddow region: Ugas Omar, Ugas Hirsi; Central region: Ugas Siraji, Ugas Farah; Mogadishu: Farah Nure Hubey) Puntland: (Bogor Abdullahi "King Kong", Hassan Abshire, Mohamed Abshire) Ogadeni: (Sultan Ina Ali Soker) Mudhiban: (General Hayd) Rahanwein: (Dr Abdulla Deerow; "Shatgudud" Dr Hassan Mohamed Noor)

After the clan delegations appointed representatives, the conference split into working committees to debate special issues, and proposals, in the last week of June, were being prepared for submission to the conference.

Working Committees:

The Secretariat (operates for the whole conference and other committees, taking minutes, preparing documentation); Drafting Committee ( issues press releases, writes up resolutions adopted. All committes submit proposals and drafts to this committee); Economic Development Committee (composed of economic experts, including former government members and economists); Security Committee (composed of former officials, police and military personnel. Includes officers from the Djibouti government); National Transitional Committee (made up of 30 members, including constitutional experts and lawyers, as well as police officers); Mogadishu Committee (25 members, including NGO representatives, former government officials, academics and members of Somali Intellectuals Forum)

Other committees were established in early June, after the election of the Conference Committee, to deal with issues relevant to the "New Somali Government" - for Education; Health; Industry and Trade; Agriculture and Animal Husbandry; and Developing Sectors. Team leaders are: Engineer Abdulkadir Madahay (Team Head); Dr Noor Sheik Hussein (Education); Dr Abdurahman Haidar (Geography); Dr Maryam Farah, and Professor Abdurahman Aden Ibbi (Developing Sector).

The committees are expected to submit their proposals to the conference for debate and resolution during the first week of July, in preparation for electing members of a Transitional National Assembly (TNA). It will then be decided, say representatives, whether the TNA should elect the President and Prime Minister, or whether members of the conference will vote directly. The Djibouti Government, under great financial and political pressure to conclude the conference successfully, hopes to start celebrations for a "New Somali Government" - some form of recognised transitional authority to be based in Somalia - by 15 July.

Faction leaders and warlords present, include: Ali Mahdi Mohamed: faction leader of the divided United Somali Congress, based in northern Mogadishu, immediately took up the invitation. He is staying in Arta. "Shatgadud" (Red Shirt) Dr Hassan Mohamed Nor: leader of Rahanwein Resistance Army. Initially rejected the conference, but arrived in Djibouti, with persuasion from the Ethiopian government (which reportedly backs the RRA) in June. He is staying at the Sheraton Hotel, Djibouti. Mohamed Abshire: former police chief and fellow detainee with Mohamed Ibrahim Egal in the 1970s. Rival to Abdullahi Yusuf in Puntland. Favoured by US in first Addis Ababa conference as potential president. Abdulrahman "Tur": first president of Somaliland 1991-1993. Was roundly condemned in Somaliland for ineffective governance - which led to heavy artillery battles in Hargeisa and Berbera - and thereafter based himself in Mogadishu. Formed an alliance with General Mohamed Farah Aideed, and declared himself in favour of unity.

General Hirsi Morgan: military contender for control of Kismayo, reportedly persuaded by Ethiopia to accept the outcome of the conference, although not present. Considered a war criminal in Somaliland, where he was in control in 1988.

The absent warlords:

There has been much debate about the importance or otherwise of faction leaders and warlords, particularly among international bodies. Although the official line is that no special invitations have been extended to the faction leaders, there is constant "behind the scenes" communication by regional and international diplomats, and Somali representatives at the conference, to encourage reluctant faction and administration leaders to attend. Notable absentees include:

Mohamed Ibrahim Egal: Elected President of the self-declared state in 1993 at the Borema conference. Elder statesman, was Prime Minister of Somalia at independence 1960, but later detained by Siad Barre. Was in exile when Somali National Movement (SNM) "liberated" Somaliland, and remained a non-member. Has publicly stated fierce opposition to the conference, but has recently toned down aggressive language. There have been arrests in Somaliland of people supporting the process, and the Djibouti delegation was prevented from visiting Hargeisa.

Colonel Abdullahi Yusuf: present leader of Puntland, represents the most aggressive opposition to the conference. A military leader of the Somali Salvation Democratic Front, he was detained alongside General Mohamed Farah Aideed, and was also imprisoned by Ethiopian dictator President Mengistu Haile Mariam in a post-Ogaden pact with Siad Barre. He was released in 1991, when Mengistu was overthrown, but his health had deteriorated. Public opinion has demonstrated against Abdullahi Yusuf's hardline stance against the conference.

Hussein Aideed: took on his father's mantle when the notorious General Aideed died. The US put out a never-claimed reward for the capture of his father, General Aideed, seen as implicated in the deaths of peacekeepers and US military personnel. Hussein Aideed was a US marine in his early thirties before he returned to Mogadishu, and was legitimised by clan elders. Perceived as a major player, his real power is nevertheless tenuous, and members of his militia recently rebelled and looted his residence. He is reported to be considering attendance of the conference - after initial rejection - along with other Mogadishu- based faction leaders, Osman Ato, Hussein Bod and Mohamed Kanyare Afrah.

This item is delivered by the UN's IRIN humanitarian information unit (e-mail: irin@ocha.unon.org; fax: +254 2 622129; Web: http://www.reliefweb.int/IRIN), but may not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations. If you re-print, copy, archive or re-post this item, please retain this credit and disclaimer.

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