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African leaders mull Somali force

 

African Union leaders are discussing sending a peacekeeping force to Somalia to prevent renewed conflict, on the final day of a summit in Ethiopia.

The AU wants to send an 8,000-strong force to replace departing Ethiopian troops, whose intervention swept Islamists from power last month.

But so far only three nations have come up with concrete offers of troops.

Meanwhile, Somalia has agreed to host a reconciliation conference in the coming weeks, according to a top EU official.

European Union Development Commissioner Louis Michel said this meant the EU would be able to release 15m euros ($20m) to fund the peacekeeping force.

However, interim Somali President Abdullahi Yusuf did not confirm he would hold the conference of clan and religious leaders.

The EU, the US and the UN have all urged Mr Yusuf to include moderate Islamists in his administration.

The US has offered to provide air support for the peacekeeping force.

In other developments at the summit:

Ghana was chosen to be the next AU chair, instead of Sudan Sudan still refuses to let UN peacekeepers go to Darfur UN chief Ban Ki-moon said urgent action was needed to tackle climate change in Africa. On Monday, AU commission chief Alpha Oumar Konare said peacekeepers were needed in Somalia to prevent renewed conflict.

"If African troops are not in place quickly, then there will be chaos," he said in his opening remarks to the summit in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa.

"We need 8,000 soldiers, today we have hardly 4,000. We cannot simply wait for others to do the work in our place."

POSSIBLE PEACEKEEPERS

Nine battalions proposed - up to 9,000 troops:
Uganda: 1,500 troops offered, subject to parliamentary approval
Malawi: Up to 1,000 troops offered
Nigeria: 1,000 troops offered
Ghana: Reportedly offered troops
Tanzania: Considering
Rwanda: Considering
South Africa: Not sending troops

In December, thousands of Ethiopian soldiers were sent to help the weak Somali interim government oust the Union of Islamic Courts which had controlled much of southern and central Somalia for six months.

But Ethiopia says it is seeking an early withdrawal from the country and has already begun pulling some of its troops out.

The fear, says the BBC's Adam Mynott, is that unless insecurity is contained quickly, then Somalia will slip back to the anarchic misrule which has prevailed in the country for the past 16 years.

So far three countries - Uganda, Nigeria and Malawi - have offered to contribute troops, while a number of other countries are reported to be considering it.

AU peace and security commissioner Said Djinnit told the BBC that troops from more countries were needed.

"I think we have made some progress because we are at the point where we are putting together conditions for an early deployment of at least the first three battalions," he said.

"And we are also in the process of creating logistical and financial conditions but we do hope that during the debate at the summit there'll be more pledges or more commitment to participate in the African Union mission in Somalia."


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