Civil society delegates at the Somali peace talks near Nairobi, Kenya, said on Thursday they would resist any attempts to disrupt the conference.
They expressed support for the regional IGAD leadership, which includes Kenya, Ethiopia and Djibouti, and said they saw no reason to raise doubts and conditions at this stage of the talks.
"We know, of course, that governments have interests but we believe they all want to see a friendly government in Somalia," civil society chairman Dr. Sharif Salah Mohamed Ali told a press conference. And he said people should not sit around criticising. He appealed to all groups, including the Transitional National Government (TNG), to participate.
The peace talks began last October in the western Kenyan town of Eldoret, but have now been moved to Mbagathi, near the Kenyan capital, for financial reasons.
The TNG has refused to come to the new conference facilities, saying they are unsuitable. Instead, the delegation is staying at a central Nairobi hotel. In a statement earlier this week, the TNG also accused Ethiopia of having "sinister designs for Somalia" and said Kenya should be allowed to manage the conference alone.
A number of faction leaders known as the "G8" have also complained about Ethiopian "interference", while leaders of the Juba Valley Alliance (JVA) recently left the talks citing the same reason.
Civil society delegates believe Somalis should have ownership of the conference, said Dr Sharif, but that overall leadership should be left with the technical committee of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD). He added that the technical committee, which is made up of Ethiopia, Kenyan and Djibouti, deserved support.
"Although the conference needs some structural rearrangement, the civil society of Somalia, representing the large masses of the country, believes that no alternative could be found for the reinstatement of peace and normal governance to Somalia," Dr Sharif said.
He added that "neither the Somali ownership issue, nor the Somaliland participation should constitute a stumbling block over the continuation of conference proceedings".
The civil society press conference also took issue with what Dr Sharif called "pressure from certain quarters" to ignore civil society's contribution or to question the legitimacy of civil society representatives.
"The Somali civil society is the principal stakeholder of the present conference and the most legitimate component of this process," he said.