July 18, 2007

Deadly Mogadishu blasts overshadow peace talks

Wed 18 Jul 2007

By Guled Mohamed

MOGADISHU (Reuters) - Peace talks due to start in earnest in Somalia this week were overshadowed by a grenade attack in a Mogadishu market that killed at least three people on Wednesday.

The attack caused chaos at the Bakara Market, one of Africa's biggest arms markets, a day before the opening of the peace meeting, already adjourned from the weekend in a climate of violence.

At least three people including a Somali soldier died after grenades were thrown at a patrol, witnesses said.

"It's total chaos here. Troops are shooting at anyone on sight," taxi driver Ali Adan told Reuters by telephone.

Four civilians were killed in a blast at the same market late on Tuesday.

The latest violence came a day before a much-anticipated peace meeting was due to resume in the volatile capital, where attacks by insurgents targeting government troops, their Ethiopian allies and Ugandan peacekeepers have become a daily feature of life.

Mortar blasts marred the opening of the meeting on Sunday, which organisers adjourned until Thursday, saying they were waiting for more delegates to arrive.

Mohamed Ali Nur, Somalia's envoy to Kenya, denied reports the violence caused the postponement of talks seen as the interim government's best hope to end 16 years of chaos, triggered when warlords ousted the last national president in 1991.

"Some spoilers who don't want peace and good governance in Somalia are trying to spoil the conference ... we will continue," he told a news conference in Nairobi.

"We expect a good outcome."


Since seizing Mogadishu from an Islamist movement in December with Ethiopian military help, the government has faced roadside bombings, Iraqi-style assassination attempts on senior officials and suicide attacks by Islamist remnants.

About 1,600 Ugandan peacekeepers serving with an African Union (AU) force have failed to quell the bloodshed. The interim government wants a fully fledged U.N. force.

On Wednesday, AU spokesman Assane Ba told Reuters the AU was reviewing their performance and was likely to ask for a six-month extension of the mission.

"We cannot leave a vacuum in Somalia," Ba said. "We know the United Nations is preparing, but at the time the mission expires they may not be able to deploy and we can't just leave Somalia like that."

As violence escalates around the sprawling Bakara traders are thinking of moving their wares to other markets in the bullet-riddled city of one million people.

"I have not sold anything this month," said shopkeeper Muse Abdi, a father of nine. "I have no option but to move my shop otherwise my kids will go hungry. I was optimistic when the government took over the city. It's so sad."


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