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Kenya Urges Eritrea To Rejoin IGAD

Kenya will ask Eritrea to re-join a regional grouping of countries that spearheads peace and development efforts in the Horn of Africa and East Africa. Eritrea withdrew from the organization Saturday widely believed to be because of peacekeeping policies in war-torn Somalia. Cathy Majtenyi reports for VOA from Nairobi.

Eritrea was one of seven member countries of the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development, or IGAD, a group created in 1996 from an earlier organization that focused on drought and development.

Eritrea has become increasingly disillusioned with IGAD, especially after the organization endorsed a plan to allow foreign peacekeepers into war-torn Somalia to bring stability there.

The tiny Horn of Africa nation vehemently opposes the presence of Ethiopian soldiers in Somalia posted there to help the transitional government oust the Islamic Courts Union last year. The Ethiopian soldiers are still there and engage in battles with insurgents, causing a huge humanitarian crisis.

Eritrea is also upset with the organization's plan to mediate a border dispute between it and archenemy Ethiopia. The two countries fought bitterly over their disputed border from 1998 to 2000, killing tens of thousands of people.

Discussions over the border issue, Eritrea maintains, are moot because a boundary commission had already demarcated the border. Eritrea says Ethiopia is bound to respect the commission's ruling, whereas Ethiopia says there should be more discussion on the issue.

Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki is the current chairman of IGAD. The Kenyan government says it will try to convince Eritrea to come back on board.

Kenya's assistant minister of foreign affairs Moses Wetangula explains what is being done.

"This morning my minister [Raphael Tuju] has had discussions with the new Eritrean ambassador to Nairobi, who presented his papers to the president today," he said.

"My colleague, the [Foreign Affairs] Minister Raphael Tuju, the chairman of the IGAD Council of Ministers [will] also take some steps to see whether either by himself or one of us, can engage the Eritreans in discussion, and to encourage them that we are better off being together than being apart," he continued.

VOA could not reach the Eritrean government for comment.

Eritrea announced its pullout on the official government Web site on Saturday. The statement said that it had "suspended" its membership because of its failure to promote peace and security in the region.

The country has often accused Kenya of being biased in favor of Ethiopia, especially in peacekeeping policies regarding Somalia.

Member countries of the Djibouti-based IGAD include: Kenya; Ethiopia; Djibouti; Uganda; Sudan; and Somalia.

Among IGAD's most high-profile accomplishments are the holding of peace talks in Kenya between north and south Sudan that ended with the signing of a Comprehensive Peace Accord, ending more than two decades of civil war in Sudan.

IGAD also facilitated the Somali peace talks in Kenya that resulted in the formation of Somalia's current transitional federal government, and is endorsing an African-Union peacekeeping operation in Somalia.