May 20, 2016 / 3:59 PM / 3 years ago

Kenya discusses plan to close Somali camp with U.N. envoys

NAIROBI (Reuters) - Kenya’s president showed “room for discussion” over a decision to shut a refugee camp for Somalis but did not promise to reverse it, a delegation of U.N. Security Council diplomats opposed to any forced closure said after talks on Friday.

Kenya said last week it was drawing up a timetable to shut Dadaab refugee camp, home to about 350,000 Somalis, because of security concerns. The United Nations and Western donors have urged Kenya to rethink and not forcibly return the Somalis.

A delegation of U.N. Security Council diplomats, returning from a visit to Somalia, held talks with Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta on Dadaab and other issues, such as the African force battling militants in Somalia, which Kenya contributes to.

Egypt’s U.N. ambassador, Abdellattif Aboulatta, said the delegation voiced concern about the Dadaab closure plan.

“The discussion was open. We did not receive any promise. But what we understood was that there was room for discussion about it,” he said at a news conference, with Britain’s envoy Matthew Rycroft, who was also among diplomats on the trip.

In a statement, the presidency said the Dadaab issue was “discussed at length” without giving details.

Kenya, which has suffered attacks by Somali militants in the past three years, announced a three-month deadline for closing Dadaab last year, but did not follow through.

Kenya, the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR and Somalia signed a deal in 2013 on voluntary repatriation of Somali refugees, some of whom have lived in Dadaab for decades. Nairobi says implementation has been too slow.

The UNHCR said in January it wanted to repatriate 50,000 in 2016 but said it might miss the target as the Somali government is still battling an al Shabaab insurgency and there are few schools or public services for returnees.

The sprawling camp in northeast Kenya has shrunk from more than half a million people over the years, as some refugees have headed home as Somalia slowly recovers from conflict.

Writing by Edmund Blair; Editing by Robin Pomeroy

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