UNITED NATIONS (AFP) - The United States circulated an amended draft in the UN Security Council aimed at endorsing plans to send a regional peacekeeping force into Somalia to support its weak transitional government, a Western diplomat said.
US Ambassador to the UN John Bolton earlier in the day said he was circulating the text to allow council members to send it to their capitals for instructions before it is taken up by experts Monday.
The new text, which takes into account amendments submitted by European countries, essentially endorses the proposed deployment of a 8,000-strong peacekeeping mission manned by troops from the seven-nation east African regional Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD).
It would also call for an easing of the 1992 arms embargo on Somalia to allow "supplies of weapons and military equipment and technical training and assistance intended solely for the support or use by the (IGAD) force."
"What we want to do is endorse the insertion of a regional peacekeeping force which many of the African states have called for in order to provide some measure of stability to permit a political solution (in Somalia)," Bolton told reporters.
The mission would protect transitional federal institutions based in Baidoa, located about 250 kilometres (155 miles) northwest of the capital Mogadishu, and maintain security there.
But the deployment of the IGAD force is strongly opposed by Somalia's powerful Islamist forces, which seized Mogadishu in June after months of fighting and then grabbed most of the south and center of the country where they have imposed strict Sharia law.
The US draft would stress the council's willingness "to engage with all parties in Somalia, including the Union of Islamic Courts, if they are committed to achieving a political settlement through peaceful and inclusive dialogue."
It would also urge the Islamists "to cease any further military expansion and reject those with an extremist agenda or links with international terrorism."
Diplomats said European council members offered amendments to improve the text to convince skeptics who fear the insertion of the force would in fact exacerbate an already volatile situation that could degenerate into a regional war.
Analysts have accused Horn of Africa arch-foes Ethiopia and Eritrea, who are still at odds over their unresolved border dispute, of fighting a proxy war in Somalia.
Addis Ababa denied claims that it had sent thousands of combat troops to Somalia, insisting that it has only deployed a few hundred military experts to train and advise the Somali government.
Eritrea has also flatly rejected the claims, but said Ethiopia should stay out of Somalia.
The proposed IGAD force would exclude troops from Somalia's immediate neighbors, particularly Ethiopia, but could include some from Uganda, diplomats said.
Wednesday, the 15-member Security Council unanimously approved a Qatari-sponsored resolution calling on UN chief Kofi Annan to extend for six months the mandate of a panel of independent experts tasked with monitoring enforcement of the arms embargo.
ICRC Provides Humanitarian Assistances in Southern Somalia
The International Committee of Red Cross (ICRC) has on Friday distributed aid supply in the flood-hit areas in middle Juba region in southern Somalia.
ICRC began providing relief supply in villages around Jilib town of Middle Juba region where the floods of Juba River hit. The river burst its banks after heavily rains down poured.
Mohamed Haji Salad, an ICRC officer, told Shabelle Media Network that the agency staff reached plastic sheets and blankets to the flood affected families in Kandaada, Kandariya, Bukaala, Banduuro Yareey iyo Mansoro-yarey villages of Middle Juba region.
ICRC was the first relief agency to deliver aid supply to these villages among the worst hit areas in the region.
The agency made the distribution of the aid through air lifting and boat system.
Some of the villages were isolated by water of floods, the traditional chief of the Kanadada village Chief Qorow told Shabelle Radio adding that ICRC still continue efforts to assist the flood victims.
ICRC itself made it clear that it would step up delivering assistances to the flood-hit areas in southern Somalia where the Juba and Shabeelle Rivers run through
Islamists deny Somali bomb claims
A government official has blamed al-Qaeda
The Islamist group which controls much of southern Somalia has rejected accusations that it was behind the car bomb on the government base, Baidoa.
Union of Islamic Courts (UIC) leader Sheik Hassan Dahir Aweys has condemned the attack, in which at least nine people died.
Government officials have accused the UIC of organising Thursday's blast.
There are fears of widespread conflict between the government and the UIC and their regional allies.
The government says they have arrested three more suspects following raids in houses and hotels in Baidoa, after three people were arrested on Thursday.
A government source says one of those arrested lost a leg in the explosion and another is a woman.
Police have tightened security around the town and several cars from the Islamist-held capital, Mogadishu, were not allowed to enter Baidoa.
A policeman told the BBC that a female suicide bomber wearing a veil blew herself up at a check-point on the outskirts of the only town under government control.
"There were flames everywhere," an eye-witness said.
The government says it was a suicide bombing but there is no independent verification of this.
"All indications are that they were trying to bring the explosives into Baidoa and their motive could be killing government officials, but we expect to get a clearer picture from the interrogation," Information Minister Ali Jama told the AFP news agency.
Some officials have suggested that the attackers were foreign members of the al-Qaeda network.
But Mr Aweys denied the charges.
"This is a baseless allegation. They have no evidence to say the Islamic courts are behind this," he told the AP news agency.
Interim President Abdullahi Yusuf survived a suicide car bomb attack in Baidoa two months ago, which killed his brother.
He said they were foreign members of al-Qaeda.
The UIC denies links to al-Qaeda but is opposed to the government and has threatened to launch a holy war to drive Ethiopian troops out of the country.
Ethiopia admits it has hundreds of military trainers helping the government but denies they are taking part in any conflict.
The Ethiopian parliament on Thursday passed a resolution authorising the government to take all necessary and legal steps against any invasion by UIC.
The resolution said there was a clear and present danger to Ethiopia from the UIC.
Ethiopia's rival Eritrea denies claims that it backs the UIC.