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Somali leaders to sign ‘roadmap’ for war-torn land

MOGADISHU, Sept 6- Somali leaders were expected Tuesday to agree a “roadmap” for the formation of a government to replace the fragile transitional body that has failed to bring peace to the fragmented country.

UN-sponsored talks have been taking place in the heavily-guarded parliament building here since Sunday as political leaders seek to build on last month’s withdrawal of Al-Qaeda linked Shebab insurgents from the capital.

“This important conference (is) to adopt a roadmap for ending the transitional period in Somalia,” said Augustine Mahiga, UN representative to the famine-hit country, in a statement released late Monday.

The deal, if confirmed, will be the latest among more than a dozen attempts to resolve Somalia’s more than two decade-old civil war.

Hundreds of people are believed to be dying each day from famine exacerbated by conflict, with three-quarters of a million Somalis facing death by starvation, many of them children, the UN said on Monday.

Constant political wrangles and the bloody Islamist insurgency have undermined Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government (TFG), which has been unable to carry out its key mandate of reconciling the country, writing a new constitution and organising elections.

The new political deal focuses on improving security in Mogadishu and other areas in southern Somalia, national reconciliation, a draft charter, governance and institutional reforms.

President Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, president of the breakaway Puntland region Abdirahman Mohamed Mahmud, the leader of the central Galmudug region and leaders of the pro-government militia Ahlu Sunna Wal Jamaa are expected to sign the deal.

The roadmap is to be implemented in the year ahead, after Sharif and the parliament speaker agreed in June to extend their terms for another year.

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A critical element will be agreeing on a system of government, as Somalia is fragmented into regional — and often rival — administrations.

The northern Puntland and Somaliland regions declared autonomy in the 1990s.

The central regions are also governed by local administrations and militia, the TFG has for years had limited control of Mogadishu, and much of southern Somalia is ruled by hardline Shebab fighters.

The Shebab were not represented in the talks, while Somaliland declined to attend because it is seeking international recognition as an independent state.

But the deputy UN representative for Somalia Christian Manahl voiced optimism that the new agreement can be implemented.

“I believe that many of the targets can be reached,” Manahl told reporters, warning that while leaders were united in common opposition to Shebab rebels, the challenge will be “to keep them together.”

Manahl also said the Shebab were a weakened force.

“People have been walking away literally from the Shebab. The drought has dealt a serious blow to their credibility,” he said.

“If they are ready to talk, we are ready to facilitate that with the government.”

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But analysts said the deal should be welcomed with cautious optimism — noting multiple failed agreements in the past and warning that forging peace in Somalia will take far more than inking paper alone.

“The departure of the Shebab from Mogadishu has opened some kind of political space, and it would be wrong to be too dismissive of the meeting,” said Sally Healy, from Britain’s Chatham House think-tank.

“At least this time it is being held on Somali soil in Mogadishu, and not like other conferences held outside. It’s one and a half cheers, not three cheers.”

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