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Regional Body Reiterates Support for Peacekeepers in Somalia


East African heads of state meeting in Kenya are vowing to send a regional peacekeeping force into volatile Somalia, a move that could undermine an agreement signed Monday between the Union of Islamic Courts and Somalia's transitional government.

Heads of state and ministers belonging to the regional body the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development would not specify the number of troops to be sent in or when they would be deployed, only that Uganda had volunteered personnel for the peace mission.

The officials also called for the African Union to provide funding for the mission and international donors to contribute to Somalia's reconstruction.

But the meeting, which included Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki, Somali President Abdulahi Yusuf, and Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zemawi, appears to be at odds with an interim peace accord signed Monday between the Union of Islamic Courts and Somalia's transitional government.

That agreement, to be finalized at the end of October, calls for the creation of a joint national army and police force, and has denounced what it terms, "foreign interference," in Somalia.

Kenyan Foreign Affairs Minister Raphael Tuju told reporters that IGAD's peace plan, which the African Union authorized in January 2005, is meant to support the transitional government in its efforts to restore peace to the war-torn country, and that IGAD has a duty to follow through on earlier promises.

"When one group in Mogadishu or in Kismayu or in any other city of Somalia comes up and says, we do not accept this, we have to negotiate," he said. "Yes, it is good to negotiate, you can negotiate, but it does not stop us from our progress on the critical path that has been charted with respect to resolving this problem."

Tuju said the regional body met Sunday with top officials of the Union of Islamic Courts and explained that the IGAD force would not stop the Islamists' negotiations with the government.

The Union of Islamic Courts has said it vehemently opposes the presence of foreign peacekeepers in Somalia, a view supported by several thousand protesters demonstrating in the capital Mogadishu.

Following Monday's signing of the interim peace accord in Sudan, media reports quoted Union of Islamic Courts officials as saying they still oppose the presence of foreign peacekeepers in the country, and warned that any deployment would spoil the peace negotiations.

Since civil war broke out in 1991, militias loyal to clan and sub-clan-based factions have controlled different parts of the country, with no central authority to provide law and order or basic services to the population.

A transitional Somali parliament was formed in Kenya more than a year ago following the peace process.

Earlier this year, the Union of Islamic Courts seized control of the capital and other areas before reaching a truce with the government.