Somalis living in northern Kenya have accused the government in Nairobi of secretly recruiting and training youths from the region as soldiers to go to fight for the transitional Somali government against al-Shabab fighters.
Local leaders have said that in the last three weeks alone, at least 200 Kenyans of Somali origin have been recruited in the town of Garissa.
The recruitment drive has also been accused of operating in other towns and the refugee camps in Dabaab.
Habiba Kosar, one of numerous parents in northeastern Kenya raising the alarm, said her 18-year-old son, Mohammed, was recruited and is being trained as a soldier at a Kenyan government security facility.
"My son was picked in the middle of the night. He is being trained for Somalia. We have never seen Somalia and have no connection with the country. I just want my son back," she said.
Government officials and local leaders have been petitioned by parents in eastern Kenya for the return of their children.
Both the Kenyan and transitional Somali governments deny any involvement.
The Kenyan defence ministry told Al Jazeera the accusations of recruitment were false.
"This is cheap propaganda disseminated by some militia groups in Somalia," a spokesperson said.
|Habiba Kosar said her son was taken in the middle of the night
"What I am aware of is that the Kenya government and, by extension the Kenya police, has been, and will continue to be, training Somali youths to serve as policemen in their country."
But Mohammed Gabow, the mayor of Garissa town, said: "It's very sad for the Kenyan government to take advantage of the joblessness of our youth and recruit them to fight in a conflict in another country.
"It's also disappointing that the same government is denying knowledge of this illegal exercise."
Kenyan authorities are being accused of directly supporting the recruitment drive, which has already processed hundreds of Kenyan citizens of Somali origin.
Kenyan security officials have been engaged in the recruitment and transportation of the youths, critics of the programme say.
Sharmarke Abdi, one recruited Kenyan youth, said he escaped after two weeks of training alongside hundreds of youths from both Kenya and Somalia.
"We were told that the United Nations was supporting the recruitment. We were transported in government vehicles. We began training immediately. Some of the trainers were from Somalia," he said.
'Money and jobs'
Mohammed Adow, Al Jazeera's correspondent in Garissa, said: "Those recruiting the young men are said to have lured them with money and promises of steady jobs."
Human Rights Watch said the recruits were promised up to $600 for military training and then a monthly salary after deployment in Somalia.
Mohamed Sheikh Nor, a journalist based in Mogadishu, told Al Jazeera: "The Somali president recently denied that his government had done any recruiting across the country.
"The information minister of Somalia also [issued a denial]. But the commander of the government forces, General Yussuf Dhumal, told reporters in Mogadishu that Somalia and Kenya are co-operating in recruiting potential soldiers for the Somalia government in Kenya's northeastern region, contradicting earlier denials."
Our correspondent said the recruitment issue has also raised questions of identity in the region.
As Gabow told Al Jazeera: "We are not part of Somalia and the Kenyan government treats us as second-class citizens. It's a dilemma."
Source: Al Jazeera