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Senator calls for new US push on Somalia


WASHINGTON (AFP) - The US Senate's top Africa hand urged the Bush administration to work urgently to establish a peacekeeping force and an international trust fund for stricken Somalia.

"The window of opportunity to effect change in Somalia is closing," Senator Russ Feingold (news, bio, voting record), the new Democratic chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations panel's Africa subcommittee said.

Washington needs to "quickly and aggresively on all fronts," Feingold said, warning that without action, Somalia's status as a security threat to US interests would grow.

Chasing Al-Qaeda cells in Somalia in US strikes, was not enough, Feingold said, opening a half-day conference on Somalia's plight, sponsored by several policy groups at the Center for Strategic and International Studies think-tank.

Washington must crank up diplomatic efforts towards the formation of a representative national government in Somalia, as well as on a trust fund backed by international donors, he said, adding that the US government should also appoint a special envoy to rally global efforts.

"The price tag will be significant ... (but) we are spending eight billion dollars a week in Iraq, a place where Al-Qaeda wasn't in the first place.

"But we can't even (have an) increase over the 40 million we are doing now with regards to Somalia ... we are just not thinking straight."

Feingold was speaking hours after fresh signs emerged of Somalia's fractured political climate, as lawmakers sacked the speaker of parliament. Sharif Hassan Sheikh Aden, and days after a US strike against an alleged Al-Qaeda cell.

Ethiopian troops entered Somalia in December to support the weak Somali transitional government against powerful Islamists and quickly ousted the Islamists from Mogadishu and much of southern Somalia.

Along with the United States, United Nations and others, Ethiopia, supports deployment of an African peacekeeping force to stabilize Somalia and assist the Somali government in consolidating its limited power.

South Africa says African force for Somalia could take time

PRETORIA (AFP) - South Africa has cast doubts on whether the African Union could quickly muster a force to be deployed in Somalia after the withdrawal of Ethiopian soldiers from the lawless Horn of Africa nation.

"Our commitment will be determined by how far South Africa is stretched in its other commitments and it will be announced in due course," Deputy Foreign Minister Aziz Pahad told reporters.

President Thabo Mbeki had already stated that South Africa's resources were stretched with peacekeepers deployed in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi, Sudan and the Comores, Pahad said Wednesday.

"However it is difficult to envisage how the African troops can be deployed within days," he said, adding: "The African Union is already carrying a heavy burden of troops in Sudan and elsewhere."

Pahad stressed that European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana had said the "UN might be needed to deploy troops to prevent a vacuum."

On Tuesday, Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi and Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki issued a joint statement "calling for the immediate deployment of an AU-IGAD stabilization force to Somalia" after the withdrawal of Ethiopian troops.

Ethiopia had said it had sent its forces into Somalia in self-defence and they would withdraw soon.

As chair of the seven-member Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD), Kibaki has approached eight outside nations to contribute troops to an African Union (AU) force which is projected to be 8,000 strong.

Angola, Mozambique, Nigeria, Rwanda, South Africa, Tanzania, Tunisia and Zambia have all been asked to supply soldiers to help restore stability after Ethiopian and Somali forces ousted an Islamist movement from Mogadishu last month.

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