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Mediator: Somalia peace talks make progress

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NAIROBI, Kenya (Reuters) -- Rival Somali faction leaders, advancing efforts to end a decade of bloodshed, have agreed on key points in a transitional charter intended to govern the rebuilding of their country, mediators said Monday.

Kenyan Foreign Ministry official James Kiboi said that more than 20 leaders had agreed on a federal system that would be used by a transitional administration to govern for five years while a new constitution is written.

The warlords had also resolved disputes about a planned transitional parliament and agreed to hold a referendum on the new constitution. The meeting had yet to agree on how to select members of the transitional parliament, Kiboi said.

"They have reached a harmonized position on various issues," said Kiboi, who attended the more than year-long peace talks in Kenya. "We are very optimistic because they ironed out what had led to the impasse."

War and famine have killed hundreds of thousands of people in the past decade in fighting between rival clan militias since the overthrow of former dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991.

Hopes of peace rose after Abdiqassim Salad Hassan, the head of a defunct interim government whose mandate expired last year, helped to persuade a group of warlords based in southern Somalia to end a boycott of the peace talks in Kenya.

"We have a full house. Every leader is here," Kiboi said referring to the late arrival last week of some of the country's most powerful military leaders, including top Mogadishu warlord Muse Sudi Yalahow Sunday and four others.

The warlords' pact will be presented to hundreds of delegates at a wider Somali reconciliation conference, also being held in Kenya, for adoption. The next phase of the reconciliation conference will focus on power-sharing and forming a new government.

The charter was highly controversial when it was unveiled in September 2003, prompting one faction to allege it would lead to the further dismemberment of Somalia and its subjugation by rival and neighbor Ethiopia, the dominant power in the Horn of Africa.

The U.N.'s top official for Somalia, humanitarian coordinator Maxwell Gaylard condemned recent murders of innocent women and children in an upsurge in clan-related conflicts in southern Somalia.

"This is a very disturbing trend and one that has shocked the communities themselves, for both the unusual brutality of the killings and the intentional targeting of women and children," Gaylard said in a statement.

During a visit last week to Xudur and Waajid villages in southwestern Somalia, U.N. officials received confirmation of several incidents including the killing in December 2003 of 10 women in the vicinity of Baidoa town, he said.

Copyright 2004 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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