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US presses African Union to send troops into Somalia


As the African Union (AU) summit drew to a close last week there was still no sign that other African forces were ready to take over from Ethiopian troops in Somalia who have already begun to withdraw. African leaders meeting in Addis Ababa agreed that a force of 8,000 peacekeepers were needed. Despite pressure from US Assistant Secretary of State Jendayi Fraser, however, and a February 2 appeal by the United Nations Security Council, only an eight-man fact finding mission has been despatched to Mogadishu by the AU to assess the security situation.

The chief executive of the African Union, Alpha Oumar Konare, told delegates at a meeting in Addis Ababa last week, “Let’s be clear, we need to get the deployment off. The more we delay in deploying troops, the more chance of the situation worsening.” He warned, “If the African troops are not deployed rapidly, then there will be chaos.”

Fraser told reporters, “We are ready to provide airlift and contracting airplanes for the African peacekeeping force in Somalia.” She said that she had discussed the US proposals with Konare.

Uganda, Nigeria and Malawi were initially said to have offered 4,000 soldiers between them. But no sooner had the conference ended than even this figure began to seem less certain.

President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda has offered 1000 troops. He now faces internal opposition. Ugandan shadow foreign affairs minister, Reagan Okumu, said, “We shall not be party to such deployment unless all the terms and conditions set are met.” According to the Kampala paper New Vision opposition MPs wanted to know who would compensate the families of soldiers killed in the operation.

President Bingu wa Mutharika denied that Malawi had offered to send troops to Somalia. He flatly contradicted an earlier statement by the defence minister. He told the Malawi Broadcasting Corporation, “It is not true that Malawi has offered to send troops to Somalia and we have not discussed this in cabinet.”

Tanzania flatly turned down calls to send troops and has now offered to train 1,000 Somali troops instead.

The US is pursuing a three pronged strategy in Somalia, according to Fraser. She told a conference in Washington last month that she saw “a glimmer of hope” for Somalia. Her plan, she said, was to provide support for the Transitional Federal Government, to support the deployment of an African Union peacekeeping force and to encourage talks between the Transitional Federal Government and “moderate” Islamists in the United Islamic Courts.

Somalia begins peace talks

Mogadishu - The government began a weeklong meeting on Monday with an array of leaders in the Somali capital, which has seen spiralling violence over the past month, as part of promised efforts to reconcile Somalis after 16 years of conflict.

The capital, Mogadishu, and much of southern Somalia has borne the brunt of the country's conflict that began in 1991 when clan-based warlords toppled dictator Mohamed Siad Barre and then turned on one another, sinking the Horn of Africa nation of seven million people into chaos.

Mogadishu also saw the heaviest fighting when government forces - backed by Ethiopian troops, warplanes and tanks - ousted the country's Islamic movement from its southern Somalia strongholds that included the capital.

"I hope it will be the beginning of reconciliation among the people of Mogadishu, which is the mirror of all of Somalia and I hope if a solution is found here, other areas will be peaceful," Prime Minister Ali Mohamed Gedi told the meeting in comments broadcast on local radio.

Ismail Moalim Musse, chairperson of the government-appointed national reconciliation commission, said the elders, traditional chiefs, representatives of private aid and development groups were to discuss their roles in restoring security in the capital and awareness programmes on peace and security.

Musse declined to comment on whether warlords who had ruled Mogadishu for most of the last 16 years had been invited to the meeting.

Warlords handing over weapons

The major Mogadishu warlords have in recent weeks handed over weapons and equipment and ordered their militias to camps where they are to be trained and join the national army.

The commission was formed in 2005 but has done little work, partly because the government was until recently unable to assert its authority beyond the southern Somalia town of Baidoa.

Late Sunday, unknown gunmen fired several rocket-propelled grenades at Mogadishu port, but the grenades only landed in the Indian Ocean and on open ground and not injuring anyone, said Abdirahman Mohamed, Mogadishu port's security chief.

Madina Hassan, who lives 30m from the port, said the attack frightened her six children. "My children shouted and began to run in confusion. Some of them asked me to take them away from the house," said Hassan.

The two-year-old transitional government only managed to establish itself in the capital in December. The ousted Islamic movement, which still has strong support in Mogadishu, has vowed to wage an Iraq-style insurgency, and clan rivalries also are a challenge for the government.

Ethiopia has said it cannot afford to keep its forces long in Somalia and has begun pulling out as the African Union (AU) presses ahead with preparations for a peacekeeping mission to Somalia. So far, the AU has received only half the 8 000 peacekeepers it believes is needed, but could start an initial deployment soon.

Three battalions of peacekeepers from Uganda and Nigeria are ready to be deployed in Somalia and will be airlifted in as soon as possible, a senior AU official said last week.

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