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Somali government prepares to return from Kenya

NAIROBI-- East African countries called on the United Nations yesterday to lift an arms embargo on Somalia to enable African peacekeepers to deploy to the lawless country as its new government prepared to return home.

Somalia's new government is scheduled to begin returning home today after a nine-month delay, and its parliament swore in several ministers and held its last parliamentary session in Kenya yesterday.

But without foreign peacekeepers, the government of President Abdullahi Yusuf fears that the militia rule in Somalia will prevent ministers and their teams from carrying out their work in safety, free from violence, corruption, and extortion.

Ministers from the regional Intergovernmental Authority on Development, a conflict resolution body, said African Union troops were ready to deploy but had been stopped by lack of funds and the UN arms embargo.

''Troops from both Sudan and Uganda are ready to deploy as soon as funds are available and the UN arms embargo for the contingent is lifted," the authority ministers said in a statement.

''The ministers called upon the United Nations to expedite the lifting of the arms embargo on Somalia to allow for deployment of [African peacekeepers] in Somalia."

The ministers said they would deal decisively with ''spoilers" and threatened to refer them to the International Criminal Court.

Earlier Yusuf and nearly 140 legislators who support him attended Somalia's last parliamentary session in Nairobi. The session also swore in an information minister and several junior ministers.

Officials said parliament took a break and will reopen after two months in Somalia, which has been without a central government for the past 14 years.

Citing a lack of security, the fledgling Somali government has repeatedly postponed plans to return to Somalia, which remains a patchwork of fiefdoms ruled by rival warlords. Only last week, Mogadishu gunmen remanned roadblocks that had been dismantled to try to prove that the Somali capital was safe enough to be home to the government.

''I am pleased to note that the transitional federal president of the republic of Somalia and his government . . have finalized plans to relocate and are now ready to go back home," Kenyan minister John Koech said. ''I wish to observe that [the president] has great challenges facing him there. The security situation in the country still remains fluid."

The Somali government has been under pressure from diplomats and Kenya to relocate quickly to Somalia.

But a row over whether the government should be installed in the capital Mogadishu, Jowhar, or Baidoa has caused a major split in the government, further contributing to the delayed return.

A spokesman said various government departments would relocate to all the three towns.

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