NAIROBI -- Members of a new transitional parliament were sworn in yesterday, a key step toward establishing Somalia's first national government since 1991. But a dispute within one of the country's main clans over its delegates threatened to scuttle the peace process, mediators said.
The new parliament is the product of nearly two years of talks in Kenya among clan leaders, religious leaders, and warlords.
While foreign officials at the ceremony hailed the creation of the parliament, they pressed for a speedy resolution to a dispute within the Darod clan over who will choose the clan's legislators.
"This is not an easy moment for me, as I stand before you seeing that the light at the end of the tunnel we have been going through is not far from us," said Kenyan diplomat Bethuel Kiplagat, the chief mediator at the talks, the latest of numerous attempts to bring peace to Somalia.
"If we have gone this far, for God's sake, let's finish the race," Kiplagat told the Somali clan leaders, warlords, and religious leaders who attended the ceremony at the United Nation campus on the edge of Nairobi.
Somalia descended into chaos after clan-based factions ousted dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991 and then turned on one another, transforming the country of 7 million people into a patchwork of fiefdoms.
An attempt in 2000 by Somali elders, businessmen, and religious leaders to form a government failed largely because warlords refused to recognize the administration and relinquish their weapons.
Instead, they continued battling with one another, and the government never controlled more than a small portion of Mogadishu and other parts of Somalia. The government's mandate expired last August.
"It is very important to disarm the armed groups; that is the first step to be taken," said Abdirashid Mohammed, one of the new legislators. The new government "may not work" if the groups are not disarmed, he added.
There was no timetable for when the parliament would return to Somalia's capital, Mogadishu, and begin official duties.
Legislators in the new parliament were selected under Somalia's clan system, and each of the country's four major clans has 61 seats in the assembly. A coalition of smaller clans is sharing 31 seats.
Women will make up at least 12 percent of the parliament's members.
The Legislature will have a five-year term and select a national president, the country's first since 1991.
But a dispute over who would select 59 of the representatives of the Darod clan threatened to undermine the 275-member parliament's authority.
Abdullahi Yussuf, a Darod who controls the central Puntland region, wanted more say in choosing the Darod representatives, an official said on condition of anonymity.
Yussuf and other Darod leaders were not available for comment, but Mohammed, the legislator, called the dispute "very small" and said it would soon be settled. He did not elaborate.
Kiplagat said the parliament would not be able to begin work until the Darod dispute was resolved.
The European Union, China, and Kenya have financed the talks.
The talks began in October 2002 under the auspices of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development, a group of seven eastern African countries.
In January, Somalia's warlords and traditional leaders at the talks approved a charter for a transitional government.