The United States must do all it can to support peace and reconciliation in Somalia, but should allow Somalis to find their own solutions, the most senior U.S. diplomat for Africa said.
Jendayi Frazer, the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Africa, told The Associated Press Sunday that the U.S. administration would use its diplomatic and financial resources to support Somalia's government and prevent a slide back into chaos.
Frazer said Somalia needs a peacekeeping force to help the government stabilize the country and start a reconciliation process to prevent the return of the warlords who drove out the last effective government in 1991 and then divided the country into clan-based fiefdoms.
"I think we are pushing uphill as an international community,as well as the Somali people themselves, to try to overcome their history," she said.
The African Union has begun planning for the peacekeepers and Uganda has promised at least 1,000 troops. Frazer has said she hopes the first troops will begin arriving in Mogadishu before the end of January.
The mission will be modeled on a peacekeeping force that recently concluded duty in Burundi. African troops there provided security for political leaders and key facilities while a new government took over the country. Like the AU mission in Burundi,a mission to Somalia could be switched to a United Nations operation if necessary, Frazer said.
"The concept,the task,the mission can be kept fairly limited, which is probably ideal," Frazer said. "I don't think the Somali people have a lot of tolerance for foreign forces."
"Some people would like the United States to lead on this issue," Frazer said. "I would prefer that we lead from behind, and what I mean by that is pushing the Somali people first,pushing the sub-region next and then mobilizing the resources of the international community."
Frazer said Somalia is important to the United States because of its strategic location in the Horn of Africa, where the Red Sea opens into the Indian Ocean. The U.S. also wants to make sure international terrorists do not take advantage of the chaos to establish a safe haven.
Frazer has repeatedly accused the East Africa al-Qaida cell of infiltrating and taking over the Islamist movement in Somalia.
Now that the Islamic militia is scattered and its leaders on the run,Frazer said all governments have agreed that a peacekeeping force and a reconciliation process is the best way forward.
She added that she believes the Somali people are also ready for peace. "There is certainly a war-weariness," Frazer said. "And I believe that is the point of leverage."