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POLITICS: U.N. Unveils Plan for Peacekeepers in Somalia

Thalif Deen

UNITED NATIONS, Jun 28 2007 (IPS) - The United Nations is preparing a contingency plan for a possible 20,000-strong new peacekeeping force in one of the political hotspots in the Horn of Africa: Somalia.

Somalia&#39s Interim Prime Minister, Ali Mohamed Ghedi, at U.N. Headquarters on Jun. 28. Credit: UN Photo/Ryan Brown

Somalia's Interim Prime Minister, Ali Mohamed Ghedi, at U.N. Headquarters on Jun. 28. Credit: UN Photo/Ryan Brown

“It is clear, however, that even in the best case scenario, addressing the problems of Somalia will be a demanding, dangerous and massive undertaking,” Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon says in a report to the Security Council released Thursday.

During the years without a functioning government, Somalia has “suffered tremendous destruction and neglect,” the report said, while “the foundations and institutions of the society have been almost completely destroyed.”

Embroiled in a civil war for over 15 years, Somalia is now governed by an interim Transitional Federal Government (TFG), which is backed both by neighbouring Ethiopia and the United States.

The head of that government, Prime Minister Ali Mohamed Ghedi, told reporters Thursday that after two previous failed attempts, a national reconciliation congress is scheduled to meet Jul. 15 which could “lead to lasting peace in Somalia.”

Ghedi admitted that one of the political failings of Somalia has been its longstanding conflicts – “clans against clans” and “subclans against subclans” – which have devastated the country.

“We need to start reconciliation from scratch – from the grassroots,” the prime minister said. “We still face many challenges and many difficulties. But we have survived so far.”

He said that the last two congresses failed to meet “due to lack of resources from the international community.”

He said the estimated 32-million-dollar budget for the July congress has been partly met by the European Commission and the United States which have provided about 8 million dollars.

In his report, the secretary-general has warned that a U.N. mission in Somalia “would likely face a number of major threats, predominantly by radical groups that are less influenced by warlords and some clan leaders who are believed to be opposed to any normalisation and the presence of peacekeeping troops.”

In addition, there are an estimated 50,000 to 70,000 clan militia and other armed groups that are generally under clan control.

“However, these disparate militias can pose a threat to peacekeepers, evoking a rapid transition into a serious security situation,” the report cautioned.

But any U.N. peacekeeping operations would have to be broadly accepted by all clans and subclans, “preferably expressed in a cessation of hostilities or ceasefire agreement or declaration.”

The current African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISON) is expected to be eventually transformed into a full-fledged U.N. force.

According to Ghedi, at least five African countries – Nigeria, Benin, Burundi, Ghana and Uganda – have offered troops for AMISON.

But so far, only 1,700 Ugandan troops have been deployed. At least five of those troops have been killed, four of them in a roadside bomb attack.

“AU is still awaiting deployment of troop contributions promised by AU members,” the U.N. report complained.

The international community, Ghedi said, has to provide funding and logistical support to AMISON. “The U.N. peacekeepers will take over from them.”

Bill Fletcher, Jr., a former president and chief executive officer of TransAfrica Forum, said a U.N. force would be “an excellent step, but not to prop up the Transitional Government as such but rather to help to stabilise the situation and promote national reconciliation.”

“It must be accepted that there is significant opposition to the Transitional Government and this opposition cannot be removed militarily,” Fletcher told IPS.

Therein, he said, lies the problem with the Ethiopian invasion last December and the unstable situation the world is witnessing in Somalia today.

“Preferably the U.N. force would be composed of African troops. In either case, none of those troops should be Ethiopian”, said Fletcher, who is a longtime labour and international activist.

The conflict in Somalia last December was triggered by a long simmering dispute between Somalia’s transitional government based in Baidoa and an Islamic force based in the capital of Mogadishu.

The United States provided support to the transitional government on the ground that the Islamic force had ties to al Qaeda. The Ethiopian government, which was backing the transitional government, decided to attack Mogadishu, threatening a full-scale war.

Just after the invasion of Somalia, Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi assured outgoing Secretary-General Kofi Annan last December that the military attack was a “limited operation”.

Zenawi said that between 3,000 and 4,000 Ethiopian troops had “broken the backs” of Islamic forces. But he gave no indication when his troops will withdraw.

Ghedi described the situation in Somalia as inspired by international terrorism.

The type of activities, he said, include suicide bombings, foreign militants and improvised explosive devices. These, he added, are alien to Somalia and alien to the region.

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