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East African States Criticize International Crisis Group's Position on Somalia

The influential Brussels-based conflict prevention group, International Crisis Group, says it regrets African criticism of its involvement in Somalia's peace process. The criticism comes from the seven-member grouping of East African nations, known as IGAD.

The Nairobi-based senior analyst for the International Crisis Group, Matt Bryden, says his organization is perplexed and disturbed by a statement from the African group describing ICG's involvement in Somalia's peace process as "damaging."

"We have been calling for caution and, specifically, we have emphasized the role of [Somali] Parliament. We have said that Parliament is the broadest and most representative institution in Somalia at the moment, and this is the best place for these issues to be discussed. Which part of that message the IGAD council of ministers objects to, we don't know," he said.

Mr. Bryden says the non-governmental conflict prevention group has never encountered problems before with the East African grouping, which is comprised of Djibouti, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Kenya, Somalia, Sudan and Uganda. He says ICG has worked closely with IGAD officials in the past to help resolve other regional conflicts, such as the civil war in southern Sudan.

But this time, ICG appears to be under fire for openly opposing IGAD plans to deploy interim peacekeepers from all IGAD member states, including Djibouti, Ethiopia, and Kenya.

Both the ICG and the United States have said that including troops from those countries would create more instability in Somalia, not less.

Djibouti and Ethiopia have long been accused of meddling in Somalia's 14-year-long civil war, and many Somalis, including powerful warlords in the new transitional government, have voiced strong objections to having troops from any neighboring country on their soil.

But early last week, IGAD chairman and Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni declared that IGAD saw no reason to exclude troops from Djibouti, Ethiopia and Kenya. That statement subsequently ignited a violent fight among members of Somalia's government-in-exile in Nairobi.

On Thursday, more than 200 lawmakers meeting in a luxury hotel, hurled metal chairs, books and tables, and beat each other with clubs during a parliamentary session to discuss the troop deployment plans.

ICG analyst Matt Bryden says the fighting clearly showed that IGAD leaders must be sensitive to issues, which could deepen divisions within Somalia's fragile, five-month-old transitional government.

"We would urge IGAD to support the Somalis to come to a consensus, not to move forward in parallel on its own timeline, so that we can have a broadly acceptable solution before the government moves back," he said.

Somalia has had no central government since 1991, when warlords overthrew Somali dictator Mohammed Siad Barre and created a lawless state controlled by militias.

Two years of IGAD-sponsored peace talks in Kenya produced a new transitional parliament and government last October, but security concerns in Mogadishu have kept Somali leaders from returning to the capital.