In the rubble of Somalia, a new government struggles to be born
Warring factions try to sort out their differences amid an air of optimism

Los Angeles Times

BAIDOA, SOMALIA - In a sweltering, bombed-out grain silo here, a group of leaders is plotting the birth of a nation. Or, more accurately, the rebirth of one.

After 15 years of anarchy, a fledgling Somalian parliament formed outside the country is meeting for the first time on Somalian soil in this crumbling southern city. The transitional government is the latest in a string of attempts to restore law and order to the Horn of Africa nation that fractured in the collapse of the dictatorship of Maj. Gen. Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991 and the international intervention that followed.

Outside the makeshift parliament, piles of rubble and dilapidated buildings line dirt streets. Electricity and water remain scarce. Militiamen roam the streets in trucks mounted with anti-aircraft weapons.

But none of that seemed to detract from the heady mood of the lawmakers, who were appointed during a peace conference in Nairobi, the Kenyan capital, in 2004.

"This time is going to be different," promised Sharif Hassan Sheik Aden, speaker of the Somalian parliament. "The reconciliation is going on. We are sorting out our differences."

Events on the ground raised doubts about that. Even as parliament members were debating a new national security plan, battles raged in the capital of Mogadishu between warlords and Islamists. More than 70 people were reportedly killed, and hundreds fled their homes.

The government has yet to form an army, and a U.N. arms embargo prevents it from training and equipping soldiers. So the government could do little more than wait for the fighting to die out.

In the south, 1.4 million Somalis require emergency food and water because of a drought, but the government has no income. To date, it has lived off handouts from the international community.

"There's a lot of talk about rebuilding Somalia, but fewer concrete steps in that direction," said Foreign Minister Abdullahi Sheik Ismail. "We have been left to our own disaster."

The 275-member parliament was selected by Somalian clan leaders. Parliament chose the president, who appointed the prime minister, who formed the government.

Most of the new Cabinet consists of the same warlords and clan leaders who have been fighting since 1991.