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East African Military Officials Discuss Controversial Somali Peacekeeping Mission


Ugandan military spokesman, Shaban Bantariza, says senior defense officials from the seven-member Inter-Governmental Authority on Development, known as IGAD, are in talks in Entebbe to lay the groundwork for a Somali peacekeeping mission.

Mr. Bantariza says that IGAD officials from Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, Sudan and Uganda, are discussing, among other things, the number of troops needed, logistics, and setting out a budget for the mission.

"So, right now, it is the technical team of experts that is working on those finer details of that deployment, after which they will present their recommendations to the chiefs of defense forces," he said. "After that, there will be a meeting by the ministers of defense and then we can get closer to the deployment date."

The IGAD talks are in response to a request the African Union made last month to deploy an interim peace mission in Somalia ahead of a larger African Union peacekeeping force.

The goal of the interim mission is to help Somalia's nearly five month-old transitional government gain a safe foothold in the violence-plagued Somali capital of Mogadishu. On-going clashes there have prevented government leaders, including the president and the prime minister, from relocating from their current base in Nairobi, Kenya.

But Somali opposition to deploying troops from Ethiopia, Djibouti, and Kenya has become increasingly organized and vocal in recent weeks.

On Sunday, hundreds of people demonstrated in the streets of Mogadishu, vowing to defend Somalia with their lives if peacekeepers from neighboring countries were sent. Opponents argue that Somalia's neighbors may harbor geopolitical interests, which could undermine what is supposed to be a neutral peacekeeping mission.

In a rare show of support for the United States, Somali protesters waved signs that read "America's view is the correct one." The signs referred to remarks made last Thursday by State Department Spokesman Richard Boucher, who urged Djibouti, Ethiopia and Kenya not to inflame Somalis by putting troops on their soil.

Many Somalis are particularly against the idea of including Ethiopian troops in the peacekeeping mission. The two countries fought a bitter war in the late 1970s over the disputed Ogaden region and relations have been tense ever since. Ethiopia has said that it would send troops to Somalia.

Somalia has not had a functioning government since 1991, when a coalition of warlords overthrew the regime of Somali dictator Mohammed Siad Barre. The warlords then turned on each other, carving up Somalia into clan-based fiefdoms defended by heavily-armed militias.

In the latest violence, at least 12 people were killed and another 35 wounded on Saturday after interclan fighting erupted in the Hobyo district in central Somalia.

Officials of the government-in-exile have repeatedly pledged to return, only to delay the move because of security concerns.

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