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East African defense officials plan controversial Somali peace mission


KAMPALA, March 7 (AFP) — Senior east African military officials began talks here Monday on the details of deploying a controversial regional peacekeeping mission to lawless Somalia, Uganda’s defense ministry said.

Military experts from the seven-member Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) are to hold two days of discussions "to consider the nitty-gritty of the deployment in Somalia," the ministry said.

"They are debating things like who will deploy how many troops, the logistics involved in such deployment and other technical issues related to the deployment," spokesman Shaban Bantariza told AFP.

The meeting, being held at the airport town of Entebbe outside Kampala, will prepare an analysis of the current situation in Somalia, determine the number of troops needed for the mission and set out its budget, he said.

The talks will be followed by meetings of IGAD chiefs of staff and then defense ministers who will further refine the parameters of the operation which will then be finalized by foreign ministers in mid-March, Bantariza said.

The experts are reviewing the findings of a recent fact-finding trip to Somalia by IGAD and African Union (AU) officials that was charged with looking into the logistics of the peacekeeping mission, Bantariza said.

The AU 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 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 taking part in the mission.

In addition, others, including the United States, have expressed concerns about including troops from Somalia’s immediate neighbors in the force.

Somalia has been awash in lawlessness and anarchic violence for 14 years since the 1991 ouster of 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 transitional government in Kenya in October.

But the government has remained based in Nairobi due to security concerns, and President Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed and Prime Minister Mohammed Ali Gedi steered clear of Mogadishu when they returned to Somalia for the first time for a week-long tour that ended on Friday.

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