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TFG, Islamic Courts To Meet Amid Increasing Animosity
At the same time, the UIC spokesman insisted that alleged Ethiopian and Kenyan bias in the dispute were impeding the peace process.
"We are committed to the peace process and are keen on going to the meeting [in Khartoum] but there are two obstacles - one is the Ethiopian invasion of Somalia, and the other is the idea of Kenya co-chairing the meeting," Ibrahim Hassan Adow, the head of the Foreign Affairs Department of the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC), said.
He claimed Kenya was also biased towards the TFG.
However, Afey denied on Friday that Kenya, which will co-chair the meeting in Khartoum with the League of Arab States, had taken sides in the dispute.
" Kenya will play a facilitation role," Afey said. "We will do our best to be good mediators. The Arab League has confirmed to Kenyan authorities that both parties in the conflict would attend the meeting in Khartoum."
The UIC has accused the TFG of being Ethiopia’s stooge, saying the government had sent troops to Somalia's south-central town of Baidoa, where the TFG is based, to prop up the administration.
The UIC took control of the capital, Mogadishu, in early June and has continued to extend its authority in much of southern and central Somalia, challenging the legitimacy of the TFG, which was set up in 2004 in a bid to restore law and order after 13 years without a national government.
The third round of reconciliation talks between the TFG and the UIC is expected to take place against the backdrop of deteriorating relations between the two groups.
"The TFG does not exist," Adow said. "It has no support among the people and does not control any territory. It is a government on artificial life support and that life support is Ethiopia."
On 20 October, Somalia's interim president, Abdillahi Yusuf Ahmed, was scathing of the UIC, saying its armed forces were led by a "jihadist wing ... under the banner of the black flag of the Taliban" and claimed that it was attempting to make Somalia a "safe [haven] for terrorism". The UIC dismissed the allegation as "cheap propaganda".
Ethiopia and the UIC have also engaged in sabre-rattling, with the Ethiopians saying they would fight the Islamic group whenever they considered the UIC posed a threat to their national security.
" Ethiopia has declared war against us and we will have no option but to defend the people and the country," Adow said.
Rivalry between the TFG and the UIC has heightened tensions in Somalia in recent months, forcing thousands to flee to Kenya in fear of a major confrontation.
About 34,000 Somali refugees have arrived in Kenya since the beginning of 2006, with a dramatic rise in the number of newcomers in the past two months. Another 130,000 Somali refugees have been living in the Dadaab area of eastern Kenya since 1991.
In the past two weeks, 2,500 Somalis have arrived at the Liboi reception centre on the Kenyan border with Somalia. On Thursday, they were cleared by the Kenyan government to move to the United Nations refugee camps in Dadaab.