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Mbeki pours cold water on Somalia plans


Beauregard Tromp

Addis Ababa - The African Union is still some way from deploying troops to Somalia, despite Somalian transitional leaders and some African leaders claiming they would be deployed in the next few weeks, President Thabo Mbeki has warned.

Emphasising again that South Africa would not be able to pledge troops to an AU peacekeeping mission, Mbeki said on Wednesday, after the African Union heads of summit meeting, that the AU had also asked South Africa to increase the number of its troops in Darfur.

So far Nigeria, Uganda, Ghana, Malawi and Burundi have indicated their willingness to contribute troops, but only Uganda has publicly given a number.

"At the moment the maximum we can say is 3 000 to 4 000 troops. This is a good number to start with," said Ethiopian Foreign Minister Seyoum Mesfin.

Averting a 'power vacuum'

But Mbeki poured cold water on hopes that even the eventual target of 8 000 troops would be enough to stabilise Somalia.

"The AU still has to do the numbers. And it's not only the numbers of the soldiers, but also the support services you may need because there are no hospitals or anything like that in Somalia," said Mbeki.

Ethiopia came to the aid of the Transitional Federal Government of Somalia after the Union of Islamic Courts took control of much of the anarchic country during the last six months of 2006.

Ethiopian troops have now started their phased withdrawal with AU Commission chairperson Alpha Konare urging African leaders to pledge troops for the AU mission to avert a "power vacuum".

South Africa is being sought out for peacekeeping missions because it has various specialised and advanced support units, in the key areas of medical services, logistics and repair.

'Offer support'

South Africa's armoured personnel carrier units are also highly prized, said Mbeki.

The over-riding problem was the transitional federal government's inability to ensure security themselves, and to this end South Africa would look at training and possibly equipping Somali forces. "We must also understand they are trying to set up a government, but they don't even have R10 to pay civil servants," said Mbeki.

South Africa would also look at helping to set up a functional administration.

With troops in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi and Darfur, South Africa does not have the capacity to deploy troops to Somalia.

Late on Tuesday, incoming AU chairman John Kufuor said the continental organisation was not deterred by a lack of funds, a problem that has cropped up in its current troop deployment in Darfur.

"The spirit of the AU is to take its initiative and then expect that the friends of Africa will come in and offer support," said Kufuor. He said a lack of resources should not condemn the Somali people to a life of indignity.

So far the US and EU have pledged financial and logistical assistance for an AU peacekeeping mission, but it is expected that some troop contributing countries will have to carry the cost of deployment to Somalia themselves.

Somalia has not had a stable government since the overthrow of President Said Barre in 1991 plunged the country into civil war that left most of the territory controlled by warlords. - Independent Foreign Service

Suspected cholera outbreak kills scores in Somalia

JOWHAR, Somalia (Reuters) - A suspected outbreak of cholera has killed up to 121 people in Somalia in the past week, hospital sources and local elders said on Thursday. Doctors say some samples of watery diarrhoea stools taken from the victims had tested positive for cholera, with the worst affected region being the central Hiraan area where at least 105 people have died.

In neighbouring Middle Shabele region, 16 people are thought to have died from the disease, which can be transmitted through contaminated food and water. In both areas, nearly 200 people have been admitted to hospital with suspected cases of cholera.

Both regions were badly hit by floods late last year.

"There is no hospital here. Victims are being taken care of by relatives," said Abdulle Adan, a local elder. "Forty two people have died this week in Buuloberde from the outbreak. Some of the dead are being buried today."

Residents of the affected areas fear the death toll will rise saying drugs are expensive and hospitals are ill-equipped to deal with the cases. Hospitals and aid workers are trying to contain the outbreak.

"Some of the samples taken to (Kenyan capital) Nairobi for testing have confirmed cholera," the director of Baladwayne hospital Mohamed Hussein Halane told Reuters by telephone. "We have admitted 160 cases and 14 have died in just a week."

Jowhar hospital in Middle Shabele was forced to quarantine cholera victims fearing the outbreak may spread, officials said.

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