From: Berhane Habtemariam (Berhane.Habtemariam@gmx.de)
Date: Tue Dec 23 2008 - 08:57:40 EST
AU prolongs Somalia peacekeeping mission for two months
ADDIS ABABA (AFP) - The African Union on Monday decided to maintain its
peacekeepers in conflict-torn Somalia for another two months, and appealed
for more countries to send troops to bolster the force.
The decision to extend the mandate of the 3,400-strong force, due to expire
at the end of the month, was taken at a meeting of the AU's peace and
security council in the Ethiopian capital.
The council "discussed in depth the situation in Somalia and decided to
prolong the mandate of the mission on the ground for two months," AU
spokesman El Ghassim Wane told AFP.
Wane said the body had also "reiterated its appeal to member states to
furnish the necessary troops to AMISOM," as the AU Mission in Somalia is
The peacekeeping force, which deployed in Somalia in March 2007, currently
comprises 3,400 soldiers from Uganda and Burundi, less than half the
hoped-for 8,000 troops.
Nigeria has offered to send a battalion to join the force, said Zambian
Foreign Minister Kabinga Pande who chaired the meeting.
"Three countries have already offered to move in Somalia. Uganda and Burundi
with at least one more battalion each, and Nigeria has confirmed one
The African political bloc has been fighting an uphill battle to get its
members to provide troops for the beleaguered force, a situation made more
urgent by the withdrawal of Ethiopia's contingent, which has been helping a
weak transitional government battle Islamist fighters for the last two
Pande said Ethiopia could not be persuaded to keep its troops in the country
beyond early January.
"The Ethiopian government indicated that they can only go to the fifth of
January but not later," said Pande.
Ethiopia sparked concern across the bloc when it announced last month that
it would withdraw its 3,000 soldiers by the end of December, raising fears
of further chaos in Somalia, large swathes of which have returned to the
control of an Islamic insurgency.
Wane said the peace and security council "has asked the (AU) Commission to
remain in close contact with the Ethiopian authorities so that the
withdrawal can be closely coordinated" with AU efforts to reinforce AMISOM.
Ethiopia sent in its troops in late 2006 to rescue the
internationally-backed transitional government and prevent the emergence of
an Islamic republic on its doorstep.
Under a UN-sponsored agreement signed in Djibouti, the AU mission in Somalia
is to take over security responsibilities while joint units involving the
government and the opposition prepare to become operational.
But Ethiopia said plans for the AU mission remained unclear.
"Currently, considerable confusion remains over the intentions of the AMISOM
troop contributing countries," the foreign ministry said in a statement.
Since Ethiopia said it was pulling out Islamist fighters have closed in on
the capital Mogadishu after taking most of the country, leaving government
and AU troops to control only a handful of locations.
Conflict in Somalia and power struggles that erupted since the 1991 ouster
of dictator Mohamed Siad Barre have scuppered numerous initiatives to
restore national stability.
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