NAIROBI, (Reuters) – The leader of Somalia’s moderate Islamist opposition called on Saturday for international forces to deploy when Ethiopian troops leave the Horn of Africa nation, to create a chance of reaching a peaceful settlement.
Ethiopia said on Friday it would pull out by the end of the year the thousands of soldiers it sent in to support Somalia’s Western-backed interim administration, raising the spectre of a security vacuum in an already chaotic and violent country.
Nearly two decades of chaos in the poor Horn of Africa country have created a breeding ground for kidnappings, banditry and rampant piracy in the busy shipping lanes offshore.
Somalia’s government has struggled to battle Islamist militants waging an Iraq-style insurgency. They control most of the south and have been slowly advancing on Mogadishu. “We need also the stabilisation force to be brought to Somalia,” Sheikh Sharif Ahmed told a panel of African elder statesmen in Kenya. “We are guaranteeing that you will be welcome … we will be there for you when you need our help.” “We must not miss this very essential window of opportunity when we are actually seeing the light at the end of the tunnel,” said Sharif, who heads a moderate Islamist faction based in Eritrea.
While Somalia’s transitional administration and some opposition groups are trying to form a government of national unity under U.N.-led talks in Djibouti, other hardline factions have rejected the peace process.
The African Union has 3,400 soldiers in Somalia helping to protect the capital, but fears that without reinforcements security will become even worse when the Ethiopians leave.
Fighting in Somalia has killed 10,000 civilians since early 2007, driven more than a million from their homes and left more than 3 million Somalis in need of emergency food aid. “We need to have more troops as a matter of urgency,” said Nicolas Bwakira, the African Union Commission’s Special Representative for Somalia. “We need to have also more resources as a matter of urgency.” He said Uganda and Burundi had some 1,700 troops between them poised to strengthen their existing forces in Somalia, but the African Union needed some $200 million to make this happen.
Bwakira said Nigeria, Sudan and other African nations had been approached to supply troops, and appealed to the United Nations Security Council to take action as quickly as possible to support their peacekeeping efforts.
Somali Prime Minister Nur Hassan Hussein also pleaded with the international community to step in when Ethiopian troops went home, saying there was hope for the peace process. “There is a very real concern that a security vacuum will be inevitable, with the consequences you can imagine,” he said. “There is a great danger the situation may turn into chaos.”
Margaret Vogt, deputy director, Africa 1 Division at the United Nations, said Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon had made little progress in finding a nation to lead a stabilisation force in Somalia.
“Unfortunately, the result so far has not been very encouraging,” she said.