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East African defense chiefs to meet in Uganda on Somali peace mission

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KAMPALA, March 1 (AFP) — East African defense ministers will meet here next week to discuss the deployment of regional peacekeepers to lawless Somalia, a move which has met local opposition, the Ugandan foreign ministry said Tuesday.

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Militiamen walk through Mogadishu.

Defense ministers and senior military officials from the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) will gather on Monday to review the findings of an expert-level fact-finding trip to Somalia to prepare the a report on the mission, it said.

"The defense ministers and army chiefs of staff will meet here starting on March 7 to receive a report from a team of experts that was recently in Mogadishu to assess the situation ahead of the proposed peace mission there," the ministry’s permanent secretary, Julius Onen, told AFP.

The defense chiefs are to prepare a situational analysis and come up with the number of troops needed for the mission, its budget and other logistics, he said.

Monday’s talks will set the stage for a meeting of IGAD foreign ministers on the issue of Somalia to be held March 16 and 17 in the Kenyan capital, Onen said.

The African Union has authorized IGAD — which comprises Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, Sudan and Uganda — to send peacekeepers to Somalia to help the country’s transitional government get a foothold there when it eventually relocates from exile in Nairobi.

Although the goverment has requested the force, opposition to troops from Ethiopia and Djibouti is running high in Somalia, where the two countries are seen as having ulterior motives in contributing.

Onen said that the weekend rejection by influential Somali warlords of troops from the two nations would be discussed by the defense ministers but would not prevent the deployment of the IGAD force.

"That threat will not stop the mission because the region is ready to deploy troops in Somalia," he said.

Somalia has been awash in a sea of anarchic violence for 14 years since the 1991 ouster of Somali strongman Mohamed Siad Barre turned the Horn of Africa nation into a patchwork of fiefdoms ruled by violent warlords.

IGAD sponsored two years of peace talks between various Somali clans and factions that culminated in the formation of the Somali transitional government in Kenya in October.

The administration has remained in Nairobi because of security concerns although President Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed and Prime Minister Mohammed Ali Gedi are currently visiting the country to build support for the government’s return.

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