Nairobi — Five MPs from Somalia were injured when two factions fought in a Nairobi hotel yesterday during a meeting called to discuss peace initiatives for their country.
They hit each other with walking sticks, tables and chairs as a policeman detailed to watch over the meeting watched helplessly.
Several sustained injuries as others fled from a hotel where they had convened a meeting to discuss the involvement of frontline states in the composition of a proposed peace-keeping force to Somalia. The talks on the peace-keeping force are being held by the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development at the Hotel Inter-Continental.
Among the Somali MPs, a faction supported the involvement of frontline states while another bitterly opposed it. There was a stalemate, and it was decided that a vote be taken to resolve the matter.
The MPs could not decide if to use the acclamation method or the secret ballot.
Those rejecting the secret vote grabbed a ballot box produced for the poll and destroyed it.
Then it was a free-for-all, with sticks and chairs flying all over the meeting room. By the time police moved in, at least five of the MPs lay on the floor with head and body injuries.
Somali Presidential Spokesman Yusuf Ismail downplayed the incident, saying the MPs were "exercising open democracy."
The Somali Parliament was not the first in the world to fight, he said, adding that it was a common occurrence.
Mr Ismail said the "active disagreement" had nothing to do with the ongoing Igad meeting discussing the deployment of a regional peace-keeping mission to Somalia.
Meanwhile, the League of Arab Nations wants the Somali Government to move to Mogadishu from Nairobi before asking for support from the international community.
The League's representative in Nairobi, Mr Salim Al Khussaibi, said yesterday that the government would only be able to resolve the issues facing them from Mogadishu.
"They should move now. That is our position and that of the international community. The question of security is a Somali problem and let them face it," Mr Khussaibi said, when he addressed an Igad council of ministers in Nairobi.
Kenya's Regional Cooperation minister John Koech urged the Igad ministers to commit their governments to participation in a peace support mission to Somalia.
Mr Koech told factions in the war-torn country to observe peace as the new government settled down and seek to rebuild the country, which had been stateless for more than a decade.
"We are calling upon all Somalis to be committed to a peaceful solution and help in the implementation of what they have agreed upon during the peace and reconciliation process in Kenya," the minister said.
The meeting heard that the UN Security council had agreed to the appointment of a Somalia special representative to the secretary-general's office.
"The Secretary General has received the blessings of the Security Council in deepening reconciliation as well as improve the coordination of international support for Somalia. It is hoped that the occupant of this post will be known in the next few weeks," Dr Babafemi Badejo, who represented UN secretary general Kofi Annan said.
The deployment of an African military force to Somalia topped the agenda at the closed door meeting, which will continue today.
The ministers and heads of delegations also discussed how to finance the support mission.
Participants also reviewed member countries' commitment to take part in the mission either by providing troops, military equipment or both.
The meeting comes in the wake of a warning by leaders controlling Mogadishu to front line states not to offer troops.
The warning came after a 10-day meeting in Nairobi during which leaders debated a proposal by President Abdullahi Yusuf to shift the country's capital from Mogadishu to either Baidoa or Jowha.
Leaders opposed to the move accused President Yusuf of failure to consult them.
Another Igad consultative meeting on the future of Somali military force is taking place in Kampala and will end in Nairobi where the leaders will brief the Council of Ministers on their deliberations.
Foreign Affairs minister Ali Mwakwere is expected to brief the council on the progress and future role of the organisation in the Sudan peace process.
Meanwhile, a call by President Yusuf for peacekeepers drawn from bordering countries, already virulently opposed at home, appears headed for defeat under international donor pressure, diplomats say.
Many Somalis, including warlords and militant Islamists, have promised to attack any troops from neighbouring states - especially from traditional rival Ethiopia - if they deploy as part of a planned African Union peacekeeping force.