ADDIS ABABA, ETHIOPIA
Disarmament of rival militias is the key to peace in Somalia, according to most political and military leaders gathered for talks here.
But one key military commander, Gen. Mohamed Farah Aideed, objects to the disarmament of his troops. And his view makes it unlikely that any other military leaders will agree to disarmament.
Unless all militias agree to disarm, none will, according to Somalis interviewed at the United Nations-sponsored talks, held here Jan. 4 and 5. The talks, an exploratory effort to set a place, date, and agenda for the first round of national peace negotiations, produced some results.
Participants agreed to hold negotiations, probably in April. The place favored by many delegates was Washington, but the two main warlords, General Aideed and his rival, Mohamed Ali Mahdi, favor the Somali capital of Mogadishu.
Other key items on the agenda for peace negotiations are the current cease-fire accord and the need for an extension of the United States-led military forces into other parts of Somalia. There was a conviction among the participants that the talks should go ahead whether Aideed agrees to attend or not.
"He [Aideed] cannot take Somalia hostage," said an angry Mohamed Said Samitar, vice chairman of the Somali National Front. "If he doesn't accept, he'll be isolated."
But, as Dr. Samitar and others here noted, any peace talks will have to address disarmament. Samitar blames the US-led military intervention in Somalia for making disarmament less likely than before the troops came.
He claims that a recent US-brokered agreement in Mogadishu between Aideed and Mr. Ali Mahdi has simply freed Aideed's troops to head to central Somalia, where they have launched attacks against another faction, the Somali Salvation Democratic Front.
As a result, Samitar says, leaders of other militias have "lost confidence in the idea of disarming because they do not want to lay down the arms while fighting is going on.
US officials recognize the need to protect Somalis whose militias, which are clan-based, are disarmed.
Aideed did not object to the idea of each militia returning to its home region, as a starting point for a cease-fire.