SOMALIA: African Union endorses regional peace plan

The African Union has adopted a plan to deploy a regional peace-support mission in Somalia, despite strong opposition from the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC), which controls the capital, Mogadishu, and much of south and central Somalia.

The endorsement follows a closed-door meeting of the AU Peace and Security Council on Wednesday in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa. The 15-member council approved a proposal by the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) – incorporating seven East African states – to have peacekeepers in place by the end of this month.

“The council decided to adopt the deployment plan of a peace force in Somalia as proposed by IGAD,” AU peace and security commissioner, Saïd Djinnit said after the meeting.

Speaking from Mogadishu, the Islamic courts Vice-Chairman, Sheikh Abdulkadir Ali Umar, told IRIN the AU decision was “a mistake”.

“This is a wrong-headed decision, which is against the interests of the Somali people,” Umar said. “There is no need for troops and the UIC is categorically opposed to the deployment of foreign forces in our country.”

But financing for the project is not yet secured. “The provisionary budget is estimated at US $335 million for one year,” Djinnit said, adding that only $18.5 million was available from a European Union peace facility. “The problem now is how to mobilise the resources for the budget,” he acknowledged.

Umar said the money to be spent on the mission “could be better spent to help the suffering Somali people”.

According to IGAD, about 8,000 troops will form the peace-support mission, to be known as IGASOM. It will be deployed to support the weak Somali interim government and help to stabilise the country by implementing disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration programmes. Uganda and Sudan were requested to provide the troops. So far, Uganda has confirmed that it would send about 3,000 soldiers.

“IGASOM will provide security to the transitional federal institutions, contribute to institutional capacity building and create conditions for promoting dialogue and reconciliation in Somalia,” Djinnit added.

The United Nations Security Council is scheduled to meet on Monday and the AU once again appealed to the body to ease an arms embargo on Somalia applied in 1992.

“The PSC reiterated its appeal to the Security Council to review its position and provide exemptions on the arms embargo, to allow the mission to move in,” Djinnit said.

The Security Council has rejected previous calls to lift the embargo but has said it would consider easing it to help the IGAD mission if conditions were appropriate.

Somalia has been without a functioning central authority since 1991 and the current government, the latest in more than a dozen internationally backed attempts to restore stability, has been crippled by infighting.

It has been further challenged by the UIC, which seized Mogadishu from warlords in June, and rapidly expanded their territory to much of southern Somalia.

Asked about the UIC position, the Kenyan ambassador in Addis Ababa, Franklin Esipila, whose country is chairing IGAD, said: “We are looking at it as a small group of people opposed to [the AU mission]. But we also feel that the more we delay, the more the situation will deteriorate. IGASOM is not an enemy of Somalia, it is there to help to stabilise the country.”

But Umar said the decision was not supported by the majority of IGAD countries, but rather by countries “who have their agenda”.

He also denied reports that UIC forces were advancing on the southern port city of Kismayo, 500 km south of Mogadishu. “We have no forces anywhere near Kismayo,” said Umar. The Somali ambassador to Ethiopia, Abdikarim Farah, had said on the eve of the AU vote that the UIC were moving to capture Kismayo.
 

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