Kenyan President Daniel arap Moi on Tuesday opened the much-postponed Somali national reconciliation conference in the Kenyan town of Eldoret, and urged delegates to make it the last.
His plea was echoed by regional heads of state and government, as well as high-level representatives of the international community.
The conference is taking place under the auspices of the regional Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) in the Kenyan town of Eldoret. All IGAD member states are present, with Ethiopia represented by Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, Uganda by President Yoweri Museveni, Sudan by President Umar Al-Bashir, and Djibouti and Eritrea by their foreign and agriculture ministers respectively.
Kenya's special envoy for Somalia Elijah Mwangale, who has been piloting the peace process, said the response to invitations had been positive. "We expect 350 participants between now and tomorrow," he told the conference.
Delegates already present in Eldoret include a large delegation of the Mogadishu-based Transitional National Government (TNG), led by Prime Minister Hasan Abshir Farah, and a delegation led by Puntland leader Abdullahi Yusuf.
The conference is expected to be conducted in three phases, with this first phase lasting two weeks. Somali delegates will go into a plenary session on Wednesday, sources close to the organisers said.
"The peace process belongs to the Somali people," Moi told the meeting. "No-one from outside is going to give prescriptions. The process must be owned by the Somalis, and the path to peace and reconciliation walked by the Somalis themselves."
Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi said the past 10 years had been "littered with the remnants of so many peace agreements [for Somalia] that have collapsed", but that the region must also take some blame.
"It is only recently that finally we have managed to coordinate our efforts," he told the conference.
Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni said that Somalia had become the teacher of Africa by a "negative example". "Modern life cannot be supported by a clan society," he told the delegates. He said that human resources were a country's most valuable asset, but that Somalia had, over the years, been destroying these resources.
Representatives of the international community stressed that they would be ready to help Somalia if the conference produced a real commitment to peace.
Mohamed Sahnoun, representing UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, said that if Somalia's leaders could produce a peaceful environment, the UN would provide increased development and humanitarian assistance, "including through the deployment of a post-conflict peacebuilding mission".
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