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Kenya Reportedly Rejects Somali Request to Deploy Troops


A disagreement between Somalia's Transitional Federal Government and the Kenyan government about where to deploy 2,500 Kenyan-trained Somali troops is raising questions about why Kenya agreed to train the troops.

Political analysts in Nairobi are expressing concern about reports of a letter written 10 days ago by Somali President Sharif Sheik Ahmed to Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki.

According to the Associated Press news agency, which says it has seen the letter, President Sharif asked the Kenyan leader to allow 2,500 Kenyan-trained Somali troops to be deployed in Mogadishu, rather than along the Somali-Kenyan border.

The news agency says President Kibaki rejected the request, fearing that moving the troops to Mogadishu would leave Kenya's border area vulnerable to incursions by al-Shabab, a militant Islamist group with ties to al-Qaida.

Analyst Harun Ndubi says if the letter is genuine, it confirms what the Kenyan government has long denied - that Kenya has been actively involved in recruiting and training soldiers for Somalia's beleaguered U.N.-backed government in violation of African Union rules.

But Ndubi says it also raises questions about whether Kenya may have taken part in the effort so that it could use the troops to protect its border with Somalia.

"If Kenya trained Somalis to protect itself, then there are effectively Somali people in the employ of the [Kenyan] government and that would be breaching international relations, said the analyst. "If they are Kenyan Somalis, we might want to look at their recruitment procedures. In my view, there must have been an understanding between the TFG [Transitional Federal Government] and the Kenyan government that there will be training of people for the purposes of Somali security and I think it was terribly wrong of Kenya to do that."

In October, Kenya was sharply criticized by international human rights groups, who allege Kenyan government officials were directly involved in the unlawful recruiting of Somali refugees from camps in northeastern Kenya and used false promises to lure Kenyan Somalis to sign up.

A recent U.N. Monitoring Group's report on Somalia says it believes the 2,500 youths were recruited last year and trained on Kenyan soil for more than five months.

The recruitment was reportedly carried out with the approval of President Sharif and under the guidance of former Somali Defense Minister Mohamed Abdi Mohamed "Gandhi," who recruited heavily from his Ogaden sub-clan in the Juba Valley region of Somalia and in Northeastern Kenya.

Shortly after the recruiting began, Gandhi was removed from his post amid reports the Ethiopian government feared he was trying to add military muscle to the Ogaden Liberation Front, a clan-based rebel group that has long fought for autonomy from Addis Ababa.

Reports from Somalia say President Sharif is eager to move the newly-trained troops to the capital to take part in an offensive aimed at weakening al-Shabab, which currently controls most of Mogadishu and other key towns in southern Somalia.

But a clan elder involved in the recruiting in Juba Valley tells VOA the plan has always been to deploy the troops near the Kenyan-Somali border to counter threats posed by al-Shabab militants there. He said the Ogadenis would not support any move to have the youths deployed in Mogadishu.

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