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Somali refugees losing patience with fractious leaders

NAIROBI, August 8 – Somali refugees in Kenya are losing hope of ever returning to their home where rival groups are again battling for control.

Already facing drought and starvation, Somalia’s misery was compounded last week when a fresh rift opened in its fragile government, further jeopardising chances of progress in a fledgling plan to pacify the country.

"The conflict was unwarranted at a time when the nation was heading towards reconciliation," said Mohammed Hasan Aden, a businessman who fled Somalia in 2002.

Since it was created in 2004, Somalia’s internationally-backed transitional federal government has been plagued by internecine squabbling and the latest spat has afflicted refugees with further discouragement.

Late last month, Prime Minister Nur Hasan Husein sacked Mogadishu mayor Mohamed Omar Habeb Dhere, a close ally of President Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed, over graft allegations.

The move backfired when pro-Yusuf cabinet members resigned, accusing the prime minister of misusing state resources.

Nur Hasan Husein has insisted he would not let internal divisions undermine the peace process launched in June in Djibouti between the Somali government and a section of the Islamist-dominated political opposition.

"It is pity to learn that the president of Somalia is masterminding the overthrow of the regime," says Ahmed Abdi "Yasir", a Somali living in the northern Kakuma refugee camp with thousands of others.

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According to the UNHCR, Kenya is home to at least 100,000 Somali refugees, who fled their country in successive waves following the 1991 ouster of former president Mohammed Siad Barre.

The Horn of Africa country has been mired in civil conflict ever since, defying more than a dozen peace initiatives, with warlords and militias fighting for control and never allowing a central authority to develop.

The latest wave of violence erupted in late 2006 when the Ethiopian army invaded Somalia to oust an Islamist militia that briefly controled large parts of the country.

The remnants of the militia and allied clans have since waged a deadly guerrilla war against Ethiopian forces and Somali government troops, forcing hundreds of thousands of civilians to flee Mogadishu.

"What I realise is that we will not go home any time soon, our leaders are still to busy playing political games," says Yasin Ali, who lives in Hagardheer refugee camp.

Many Somalis are simply appalled by the latest dispute, which has led to an absurd situation where Mogadishu is ruled by two competing mayors, the outgoing Dhere who has ignored his dismissal and a new strongman appointed by Husein.

"I am the legal mayor of Mogadishu, the letter of sacking by the PM is only legal when accepted by the president," Habeb told AFP in a recent phone interview.

Yet Mohamed Osman Ali Dhagahtur, who was proclaimed acting mayor of Mogadishu last month, insists that the city is under his control.

"These politicians are just comedians. The transitional federal government controls a very small portion of Mogadishu thanks only to the help of Ethiopia," says Ahmed Mukhtar, a Somali who found refuge in Kenya shortly after Siad Barre was toppled.

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"I am sorry for the people of Somalia as they face unimaginable human suffering for more than 17 years. The current government is not the one that will help them overcome their differences," says Amina Ibrahim, who left Somalia as a teenager in 1994.

"None of our interim administrations have really served the people but this government is the most blood-thirst we’ve ever seen," says the mother of three, who has now settled in Nairobi’s South C neighbourhood.

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