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Somalia postpones peace conference for second time
(Updates with grenade attack, paragraphs 12-13)
By Guled Mohamed
MOGADISHU, June 13 (Reuters) - Organisers of a national reconciliation conference in Somalia due to start on Thursday have postponed it for one month in the second delay to long-awaited peace efforts in the chaotic Horn of Africa nation.
Ali Mahdi Mohamed, chairman of the National Reconciliation Committee said the conference was postponed "due to unforeseen circumstances". It will now be held on July 15.
The government-organised and internationally-backed peace conference, which was first postponed from April, was intended to bring together in Mogadishu 1,355 delegates from different clans and factions across Somalia.
Foreign diplomats had expected the postponement, even though they are pinning their hopes on the conference as the best way to try to secure lasting peace in Somalia, which has been in anarchy since the ousting of a dictator in 1991.
Mahdi, reading a committee statement, said several clan leaders had requested a delay to choose their delegates, while the venue of the conference -- a rundown and bullet-scared former police compound -- had not yet been refurbished.
Committee official Abdikadir Mahamud Walayo said the main reason for the delay was to accommodate demands by Mogadishu's dominant Hawiye clan for more time to prepare and talk to the government.
Some members of the Hawiye have been fighting in an insurgency against the interim government, led by President Abdullahi Yusuf of the rival Darod clan.
"We received some complaints from some sections of the Somali clans, especially the Hawiye. So we decided to accommodate them," Walayo told Reuters.
The Somali government and its Ethiopian military allies routed militant Islamists from Mogadishu at the end of 2006, but have been unable to pacify the city or establish national authority across the nation of 10 million people.
The Islamist-led insurgency has rumbled since the New Year, bringing two bouts of large-scale fighting that killed at least 1,300 people and sent nearly 400,000 fleeing the coastal capital, according to locals and U.N. figures.
Although the insurgents have been flushed out of their main Mogadishu strongholds, guerrilla attacks have continued against Somali government and Ethiopian military targets. African Union peacekeepers from Uganda have also been hit.
In the latest strike, residents said unknown assailants hurled a hand grenade at two trucks carrying Ethiopian troops in a northern neighbourhood of the city, killing one civilian.
Government officials were not available for comment.
Diplomats said the administration should shoulder some blame for the second delay of the peace conference through not moving fast enough on preparations or reaching out to opponents.
"If this process is to work, the government has to show it is genuinely prepared to be more inclusive," said one.
The Hawiye applauded the delay. "This is in fact a positive step towards reconciliation," said spokesman Ahmed Diriye.
Analysts say the government must reach out to the Hawiye if there is to be any chance of stability in Somalia.
Bethuel Kiplagat, a Kenyan envoy who led the peace process that created the interim government in late 2004, urged the international community to remain patient with Somalia.
"Remember (south) Sudan took 10 years to get a peace deal signed, and this is only a couple of months," he told Reuters. (Additional reporting by Andrew Cawthorne and Jeremy Clarke in Nairobi)
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