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African Union Urges Backing For Somalia Peace Force
By Daniel Wallis
NAIROBI, Dec 14, 2006 – African states should send peacekeepers to help Somalia's fragile interim government negotiate with rival Islamists from a position of strength, the head of the African Union (AU) said on Thursday.
A week ago, the U.N. Security Council approved deploying a regional force in the chaotic Horn of Africa country to support the embattled Western-backed administration. The AU had earlier backed the mission, first proposed two years ago by Somalia's interim government.
But amid Islamist threats of holy war against "invaders" there have been no offers so far, and Uganda -- one nation that had earlier promised to send its troops -- has given differing public statements on whether it will deploy its soldiers and is internally split over the mission, diplomats say.
At a summit in Kenya on Thursday, AU Commission Chairman Alpha Omar Konare urged leaders to back the Somali government against the newly powerful Somali Islamic Courts Council (SICC), and warned of dire consequences if they did not.
" Somalia has remained a non-state and we have allowed things there to rot," he told six heads of state in Nairobi.
"Obviously, we are not going to wage war. But there can be no balanced dialogue (between Somalia's rivals) if the transitional federal government is not helped and supported."
He berated the leaders for a lack of African "solidarity" with Somalia's young administration, which he said had undercut years of negotiations in Kenya that led to its birth.
"If we do not do this now, then we must prepare ourselves for the emergence of ethnic republics and religious republics in the coming years," he said, referring to the SICC.
Islamist forces and pro-government troops are dug in just kilometers (miles) apart in southern Somalia, and the SICC has vowed to attack unless Ethiopia withdraws by Tuesday thousands of troops it says are backing the administration.
Fighters from both sides have skirmished several times in the past week near Baidoa, a south-central trading town that is the government's only base on its own turf.
The Somali crisis is not on the agenda of the two-day summit in Kenya, which groups leaders from Africa's volatile inland Great Lakes region. But the proposed peace force was on the minds of the presidents arriving for the talks.
"We are very, very concerned about the situation," Congolese President Joseph Kabila told reporters. "It may come up in our bilateral meetings."