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Regional Group, Somali Government Disagree Over Peace Mission

The seven-nation regional group that spearheaded negotiations to end wars in Somalia and Sudan began its two-day session by urging Somalis to accept a controversial peace support mission to Somalia. The Somali government is divided over whether or not to accept this mission.

Officials opening the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development's meeting in Nairobi said they are determined to see the Kenya-based Somali government return to the capital, Mogadishu.

Central to the move is a peace support mission that the regional group, known as IGAD, plans to send to Somalia to restore peace there so that the government can set up its operations.

But many Somali legislators and others oppose the deployment of troops from Ethiopia and two other frontline states, arguing that Ethiopia has inappropriately intervened in Somali affairs and is therefore not a neutral force.

IGAD's executive secretary, Attalla Bashir, tells VOA Ethiopian troops should be thought of as members of IGAD's peace support mission and not representatives of Ethiopia.

"We are here as all IGAD member states. The intervention is under the flag of IGAD. We are not talking now, at this moment, frontline states or non-frontline states yet. If the political decision is taken, it will be under the flag of IGAD and it will be temporary," Mr. Bashir says.

This latest two-day session follows on the heels of a meeting in Uganda last week at which IGAD chairman Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni said the organization would deploy a peace support mission with or without the support of factional leaders, most of who are now in the government.

That sentiment was echoed by Kenya's Regional Cooperation Minister John Koech, who threatened to take Somali warlords and others to the International Criminal Court if they disrupt the peace support mission.

At the same time as the IGAD session opened in one Nairobi hotel, the Somali parliament met in another hotel to vote on whether or not to accept a peace support mission that includes troops from Ethiopia, and two other frontline states - Djibouti and Kenya - so as not to isolate Ethiopia.

A sizable minority of government members is against Ethiopian troops coming into Somalia. They say Ethiopia supplied arms and other support to certain factions in Somalia during the 14-year civil war, and is therefore not a neutral force.

There are also lingering bad feelings between the two countries ever since the war of 1977, when they fought to control the Ogaden region, which now belongs to Ethiopia.

An analyst with the International Crisis Group, Matt Bryden, says a lot hinges on whether or not the opposing sides of parliament can reach a common agreement on the issue.

"Probably both sides of the parliament are hoping that a vote will settle the issues. The president thinks that if he can get a majority in support then that's good enough to authorize deployment. Deciding an issue this important by majority vote is not going to work. If there is a significant minority who lose the vote, then they risk just walking out of the process," Mr. Bryden says.

Mr. Bryden says IGAD is also facing challenges. He says the U.N. Security Council might block IGAD from sending in a peace support mission because of the U.N.'s long-standing arms embargo against Somalia. The member states of IGAD are: Djibouti; Ethiopia; Eritrea; Kenya; Somalia; Sudan; and Uganda.