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Pressure grows for Somalia peacekeepers


By Todd Pitman - The Associated Press

advertisementMore than a decade after the U.S. and U.N. pulled failed peacekeeping missions out of Somalia, African governments are under growing pressure to mount a new intervention in one of the continent's most violent and unstable nations.

But the continent's leaders may have a tough time succeeding, judging from past peacekeeping missions and the African-led force now deployed to maintain security in Darfur, which has been beset by problems.

Somalia has had no real peace since 1991, when warlords overthrew longtime dictator Mohamed Siad Barre and turned their guns on one another, plunging the Horn of Africa country into chaos. A radical Islamic movement brought some stability after it seized much of southern Somalia last year, but its hold on the country was short-lived. Ethiopian and Somali troops routed the movement's fighters in a lightning-quick campaign that began in late December.

Now Ethiopia is eager to withdraw its troops, and many fear they may leave a power vacuum that could spawn yet more bloodshed.

Warlords agreed earlier this month to disarm and join a new army, but the peace is fragile. The last major warlord to withhold support from Somalia's government surrendered his weapons and militiamen Saturday a boost for a fledgling leadership that still faces threats of guerrilla attacks from the Islamic movement that fled the capital.

Insurgency fears grow

Mohamed Dheere, one of the most feared warlords in Somalia, gave the army chief 23 trucks mounted with heavy weapons and ordered 220 of his fighters to report for training at government camps. The handover took place during a ceremony in Dheere's stronghold of Jowhar, 50 miles north of the capital of Mogadishu, said Abdirahman Dinari, the government spokesman.

But fears of an Islamic fundamentalist insurgency grew following an ambush Saturday morning on a convoy of Ethiopian troops in Mogadishu.

Six-month mission foreseen

The Ethiopians returned fire, killing a man and a woman on the side of the road, said Hawa Malin, a Mogadishu resident who saw the attack. Two other people died on the way to the hospital, medical officials said.

The United Nations, the U.S. and the European Union have all called for the rapid deployment of African troops to prevent the country from slipping back into anarchy.

In Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, an African Union assessment team on Friday recommended deploying about 8,000 African peacekeepers for a six-month mission that would eventually be taken over by the United Nations.

But significant obstacles stand in the way before the force can be deployed. The African Union force would likely be charged with protecting the government and training Somali militiamen who would make up a new national army. But Peter Takirambudde, director of New York-based Human Rights Watch's Africa program, said problems could arise due to the lack of time to prepare for a mission and Somalia's long history of brutal clan warfare.

That sentiment is reflected by a general reluctance on the part of African governments to provide troops to what could be a dangerous mission in a country notorious for the botched U.S. and U.N. operations in the early 1990s.

Few troops to spare

No nation has publicly pledged soldiers except Uganda, whose promised 1,500 troops could be dispatched only if its parliament approves.

African nations also say they don't have many troops to spare because of their large contributions to U.N. missions elsewhere on the continent and worldwide.

In addition, any Somalia mission will require substantial logistical and financial support. Bearing the financial burden alone may also be prompting reluctance among African countries, although the U.S. and the European Union have already promised $33 million for the mission.

Another obstacle is the African Union's lack of experience in running peacekeeping missions. The group's current 7,000-strong peacekeeping venture in Sudan's war-torn Darfur has been plagued by logistic troubles and criticized for not doing enough to protect civilians. Commanders say they simply don't have enough equipment, vehicles, helicopters and planes to do the job.

Other regional peacekeeping missions have had better results in the past, albeit with the support of the U.N.

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