Dec 04, 2006

Somaliland: US Seeks UN Backing for Somalia Peacekeeping Force

The US asked the U.N. Security Council to help Somalia's government with an African peacekeeping force that would exclude troops from bordering states such as Ethiopia.

The United States asked the U.N. Security Council on Friday to help prop up Somalia's shaky government with an African peacekeeping force that would exclude troops from bordering states such as Ethiopia.

A U.S. draft resolution obtained by Reuters would also ease a widely ignored 14-year-old U.N. arms embargo on Somalia to enable the peacekeepers to legally bring in arms and train and equip local security forces.

With widespread instability and the interim government under pressure from Islamists, "what we want to do is endorse the insertion of this regional peacekeeping force which many of the African states have called for, in order to provide some measure of stability there, to permit a political solution," U.S. Ambassador John Bolton told reporters.

Stressing that its sole goal was to support peace and stability in Somalia through "an inclusive political process," the measure would call on the Islamists to halt any further military expansion and reject individuals "with an extremist agenda or links to international terrorism."

But it also would call for a "credible dialogue" between the Islamists and Somalia's Transitional Federal Government and state the council's willingness to engage with any party "committed to achieving a political settlement through peaceful and inclusive dialogue."

The Islamists have been steadily expanding their reach and influence in Somalia. The United States says they are harboring al Qaeda operatives who threaten the region and elsewhere.

Washington earlier backed an "anti-terror" coalition of warlords in its effort to counter the Islamists' growing influence in the Horn of Africa nation, which has been in chaos, without a central government, since 1991.

But the Islamists defeated the coalition in June as they seized control of the capital, Mogadishu.


More recently, troops from Ethiopia, a U.S. ally, have poured over the border into Somalia to support the interim government holed up in the small provincial town of Baidoa.

The African Union and regional Inter-Governmental Authority on Development, which brokered the transitional government's installation in 2004, have long been pushing for regional peacekeepers to support it.

But word of the U.S. initiative set off alarms this week when the Brussels-based International Crisis Group and European experts warned the draft could backfire by undermining the interim government, strengthening the Islamists and leading to wider war.

Because the Islamists are backed by Eritrean troops, the group said it feared that allowing Ethiopian peacekeepers in the force could transform the conflict in Somalia into a proxy war between Ethiopia and Eritrea, whose relations remain extremely tense years after a bloody border war between them.

The group said the Security Council should not take sides in Somalia or let neighboring countries like Ethiopia and Eritrea participate in the force.

It urged the council to instead tighten the U.N. arms embargo and encourage government and Islamist leaders to hold talks aimed at a political settlement of their rivalry.

"People criticize us when we take action on the ground that our taking action makes the situation worse. So what is the answer -- not to take action?" Bolton asked.