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AU wants UN role in Somalia

Published: 6:45AM Saturday January 20, 2007 Source: Reuters

An African Union (AU) mission to Somalia recommended on Friday that it send peacekeepers for six months before handing over to the United Nations to tame a nation in chaos for 16 years.

Diplomats see international peacekeepers as the only way to stabilise Somalia once Ethiopian troops - who helped the interim government oust rival Islamists over the New Year and are now propping up the administration - return home.

But with Uganda the only country to pledge troops publicly, funding uncertain and African politicians clearly wary of a messy engagement in a nation in anarchy since 1991, many think it will be a long and difficult task to muster such a force.

An AU commission that visited Mogadishu in recent days recommended a 7,650-soldier force - or nine infantry battalions of 850 each - be deployed to Somalia "as soon as possible".

"The mission should be deployed for a period of six months ... with a clear understanding that the mission will evolve to a United Nations mission," the commission report said.

Such a UN mission "will support the long term stabilisation and post-conflict reconstruction of Somalia", added the report, issued at AU headquarters in Ethiopia.

A police training team, supported by maritime, coastal, air and civilian "components" should also be deployed with the initial AU force, it said. Three battalions should enter initially, with others to follow quickly given "the risk of spoilers bent on undermining operations".

Fresh from a trip to Mogadishu, the UN envoy to Somalia joined AU officials in Ethiopia. "I see a small window opening for peace and reconciliation," Francois Lonseny Fall said.

In Mogadishu on Thursday, Fall met President Abdullahi Yusuf, who was enabled by the fall of the Islamists to come to the capital for the first time since his 2004 appointment.

"The city is under the control of the government. Warlords have continued to disarm," Fall said, adding that the United Nations would aid AU peacekeeping efforts.

European Union foreign ministers are set to offer 15 million euros to AU peacekeepers but will also, at a meeting on Monday, voice concern over this week's ouster of Somalia's parliamentary speaker who was deemed pro-Islamist, diplomats said.

"The EU will say it remains concerned by the current state of the reconciliation process," an EU official said.

"It is of the utmost importance to ensure that all key stakeholders - including clan elders, Islamic leaders, representatives of the business community, civil society and women - are engaged," a draft text agreed by EU envoys says.

Multiple threats

The region's main military power, Ethiopia, wants to withdraw its troops quickly from Somalia after a two-week offensive alongside government troops to rout the Islamists, who had controlled the south for six months.

Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi told the BBC on Friday that his forces were to start leaving "in the next few days".

"We want to withdraw at the earliest possible opportunity but we want to do it in a responsible manner," he added.

Leaders of the Somali government, which was formed in Kenya in 2004 and whose mandate runs out in 2009, have said they want African peacekeepers in by the end of the month.

Without them, the government will struggle to control the multiple threats of remnant Islamists vowing guerrilla attacks, warlords rebuilding power-bases, and clans vying for influence.

With other African nations giving mixed signals, Uganda at least took a step forward on Friday when its ruling party approved a plan to send some 1,000 troops there.

Ethiopia's arch-foe Eritrea said Addis Ababa was stuck in a "quagmire" in Somalia. "The Islamic Courts have not been defeated," President Isaias Afwerki told Al Jazeera television.

In Kenya, hundreds of Muslims carrying anti-Bush and anti-Ethiopia placards rallied to accuse authorities of unfair arrests and harassment due to the crisis in neighbour Somalia.

"Every Kenyan Muslim is an Islamist. We are not apologetic about it," said Abdullahi Abdi, the chairman of National Muslim Leaders Forum. "We are being pushed to the wall...under siege."

Fugitive Islamists have fled to remote corners of south Somalia, where they have faced US and Ethiopian air strikes on one side and a Kenyan military cordon on the other.

The US ambassador to Kenya and Somalia, Michael Ranneberger, dismissed as "utterly bogus" an Islamist Web site report that 10 American soldiers had been captured there.

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