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POLITICS: U.N. Calls for "Green Zone" in Strife-Torn Somalia

Thalif Deen

UNITED NATIONS, Jul 30 2009 (IPS) - Somalia, a perpetually violence-prone country described as one of the world's failed states, may go the way of Iraq.

Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, the U.N. special representative for Somalia, has proposed the creation of a "green zone" in the capital of Mogadishu, modeled on the lines of the highly protected U.S. safety cocoon in Baghdad.

"It is time for the United Nations to return to Mogadishu," he told reporters Wednesday.

Lamenting the inaction by the Security Council, he quoted the British philosopher Edmund Burke, who once remarked: "All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing."

The African country has been torn apart by continuing strife over the last 20 years.

The current Transitional Federal Government (TGF), which is under siege, is strongly backed by the international community, including the United Nations, the Organisation of Islamic Conference, the African Union, the League of Arab States, the European Union and Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD).

Still, the United Nations has shown reluctance to either send a peacekeeping force into Somalia or set up a heavy presence in a country wracked by continued violence.

In January 2007, the United Nations unveiled a contingency plan for a proposed 20,000-strong peacekeeping force in Somalia. But it never got off the ground, primarily for political and security reasons.

The world body and its relief agencies have been operating mostly out of the Kenyan capital of Nairobi.

Ould-Abdullah told the Security Council Wednesday it is time for the United Nations to show it is serious about the plight of the African nation by physically moving into the embattled country.

"Our temporary presence in Nairobi has lasted far too long. We can only work effectively for peace with the Somalis and address pressing humanitarian needs if we are close to the victims of famine, violence and different abuses," he said.

The U.N. special envoy said U.N. agencies, humanitarian organisations and the diplomatic community – most of them located outside Somalia – should move to Mogadishu.

The establishment of a "green zone", he argued, will facilitate this process.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said last December he has virtually given up all hopes of sending a U.N. peacekeeping force into Somalia.

"The danger of anarchy in Somalia is clear and present. So is the need to act," he said.

"I have spoken with the leaders of 50 countries and three international organisations about organising a multinational force. Not one nation has volunteered to lead," although some had agreed to provide troops, he added.

Since then, the situation has not undergone any significant changes, because a regional peacekeeping force, the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), is struggling to raise troops and equipment.

The all-African force, created in January 2007, has an authorised strength of 8,000. But only 54 percent or 4,300 troops are currently in deployment.

The troops come mostly from Uganda, Burundi, Ghana and Nigeria, with pledges from Sierra Leone and Malawi.

The AMISOM force was expected to be replaced by the proposed multinational U.N. force.

But in the absence of a U.N. force, Ban has asked member states to reinforce AMISOM with additional troops, funds and equipment. The response has been disappointing.

In a report to the Security Council Wednesday, the secretary-general says there is an "urgent need for additional troops for AMISOM so as to reach its authorised strength, especially in the race of continued attacks on the government by the insurgents."

The report also says that one of the primary insurgent groups Al-Shabaab has confirmed the presence of foreign fighters within its ranks and has openly stated that it is working with al Qaeda, an international terrorist group, in Mogadishu to remove the government of President Sheikh Sharif Sheik Ahmed.

"I have a strong reason to believe that there are foreign fighters – and they are better organised and better disciplined," Ould-Abdallah told reporters.

The secretary-general's report says many of the fighters are reportedly from Pakistan and Afghanistan.

"They have been observed wearing hoods, directing offensive operations against government forces in Mogadishu and neighbouring regions," it said.

Ould-Abdallah admitted Somalia is a "difficult case". But challenges always exist and should not be a reason for inaction.

"The international community should never surrender its obligation towards the people (of Somalia)," he declared.

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