Three Somali politicians were wounded on Thursday after fighting broke out during a parliamentary debate in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, over the proposed deployment of peacekeeping troops to the war-torn country.
"There was total mayhem," a Member of Parliament (MP), who asked to remain anonymous, told IRIN on Friday. He said one of the wounded MPs sustained a head injury.
During the proceedings, which were carried live on Kenyan media, MPs used their fists, sticks and hurled chairs at each other.
The fight began after the speaker of Somalia's transitional federal parliament, Sharif Hassan Shaykh Aden, announced the results of a vote on a motion to include troops from neighbouring countries in the proposed peacekeeping force. Those opposed had won by 156 votes to 55, with six abstentions.
Aden told IRIN on Friday that the fighting "was planned by those who feared losing the vote on the motion." He added, "They tried every trick to stop the vote from taking place".
Thursday’s motion had been tabled by MPs who objected to soldiers from Somalia's immediate neighbours - Ethiopia, Kenya and Djibouti – being included in the peacekeeping troops.
In February, the African Union (AU) authorised the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), the facilitator of Somalia's peace process, to send a peace mission to Somalia. IGAD’s members are Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, Sudan and Uganda.
The mission’s purpose was to help the transitional Somali government get a foothold in the country when it relocates from Kenya. The government has remained in Nairobi since October when it was set up, citing security concerns in Mogadishu.
However, prominent Somali faction leaders, as well as members of the public, have opposed the plan, in particular the suggestion to include troops from neighbouring countries.
"We will welcome peacekeepers from anywhere in the world except our immediate neighbours," said Aden, adding that parliament "did its duty last night".
This week’s opposition to the proposal, including demonstrations in the Somali capital, Mogadishu, on Tuesday and Wednesday, followed a statement on Monday by IGAD’s chairman, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, that the AU would deploy troops "with or without the support of the warlords".
"Why should the warlords, for example, reject Ethiopia and Kenya?" Museveni said.
America and the International Crisis Group (ICG) have also expressed concern over the inclusion of troops from countries neighbouring Somalia without the approval of the Somali people.
Government spokesman Abdirahman Nur Dinari told IRIN that the Somali government did not recognise the outcome of the vote "since no voting took place".
"We want and need peacekeepers regardless of where they come from," he said. "If our neighbours want to help us we will welcome them."
Dinari accused Aden and a "few warlords" of being responsible for Thursday's fighting. However, Aden denied that the vote violated parliamentary procedure, saying "it was done within the law and the majority won".
The speaker said that 217 of the 275 MPs voted on the motion, which took place as IGAD ministers also met in Nairobi.
Commenting on the incident, the ICG director for the Horn of Africa division, Matt Bryden, said that while the violence in parliament was inexcusable, the incident was a "natural consequence" of Somali President Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed's insistence that the country's neighbours participate.
"By insisting on such a force, the president and PM [Prime Minister Ali Mohammed Gedi] are willfully disregarding the views of members of their own cabinet, a clear majority of parliament and large sections of the public," he said.
Bryden added that the ICG had repeatedly warned the government that it risked destabilising the transitional institution - and derailing an increasingly fragile peace process - by forcing the issue.
Unfortunately, he said, Gedi had "apparently learned nothing of the dangers this issue poses to the peace process, and is determined to bring the matter before parliament a second time".
According to Bryden, the transitional government should not be allowed to procrastinate any longer: "Its leaders must shelve this issue, request an AU monitoring force instead, move to Mogadishu and get down to work on their primary responsibilities - reconciliation and reconstruction."
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions