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Last Updated: Thursday, 7 December 2006, 16:59 GMT
Somalia's peacekeeping conundrum
By Joseph Winter
BBC News website

Islamist fighter
The Islamists say they will attack any peacekeepers
The UN Security Council's resolution on sending peacekeeping troops to Somalia has sparked a furious reaction from the Islamists who control much of the country, even though there is no prospect of foreign soldiers setting foot on Somali territory for many months, if not years.

Even the East African body, Igad, which originally made the request, is deeply divided on the wisdom of sending troops into a country awash with weapons and which has not had an effective national government for 15 years.

The resolution, passed unanimously by the 15-member council provides for an 8,000-strong force, to be known as Igasom, to protect Somalia's weak government in Baidoa, the only town it controls.

A European diplomat who closely follows events in Somalia told the BBC News website: "There's a lot of water to flow under the bridge before it's implemented."

'Invaders'

Matt Bryden, Somalia analyst at the International Crisis Group think-tank, agrees for several reasons:

Firstly, the resolution does not mention who would pay for the force - a key consideration.

The reality is the government is deeply unpopular and the UIC has filled the vacuum they have vacated
Matt Bryden
International Crisis Group
Secondly, states which border Somalia are excluded from sending troops, because they are seen as having their own interests in the country, especially Ethiopia.

This only leaves three Igad members - Eritrea, Sudan and Uganda - and of these, only Uganda is in favour of the Somali mission.

Uganda is not going to send 8,000 troops by itself, although there is a possibility that other African countries could volunteer soldiers.

After the United States' debacle in Mogadishu in the 1990s, no western country is going to send troops to Somalia - and they would only further inflame the Islamists.

Thirdly, the virulent Islamist opposition to peacekeepers will not encourage other countries to risk sending their troops to Somalia.

Why does the UN want to go in now that the Islamists have done a better job than the UN would ever have done?

"Deploying foreign forces to Somalia is seen as invading forces and the Somali people are prepared to defend themselves against aggression," Union of Islamic Courts (UIC) official Ibrahim Adow told the BBC.

He said that the Islamists had succeeded in bringing peace and security to the areas under their control - most of southern Somalia.

"We see this as creating instability in Somalia. Most of Somalia is peaceful," Mr Adow said.

'Fundamental misunderstanding'

But the UIC have been most vocal in their opposition to Ethiopia troops, who are specifically ruled out of contributing to the peace force.

Optimists hope this clause will be enough to persuade the Islamists to agree to back the resolution.

Map
The European diplomat further suggests that the peace force could deter regional states from intervening in Somalia.

There have been fears that Ethiopia and its rival Eritrea could fight a proxy war in Somalia.

Mr Bryden, however, says that the resolution could in fact tip the precarious situation in Somalia over the edge.

"Militants within the courts could now take pre-emptive action against the government before the peacekeepers are deployed," he says.

He says the idea of a peacekeeping force comes from far-away officials who "fundamentally misunderstand the situation".

"From a distance, this is a broad-based government established in Somalia, which is under pressure.

"The reality is the government is deeply unpopular and the UIC has filled the vacuum they have vacated."

Skirmishes

Other Somali observers, such as Festus Aboagye from South Africa's Institute for Security Studies, are more supportive of the UN resolution and its backing for the government.

"Granted, the UIC holds sway over large sectors of Somalia, nonetheless it is not the legitimate government of Somalia," he told the BBC's Focus on Africa programme.

Government troops
Both government and Islamist forces have been preparing for war
The European diplomat insists that the proposed force is intended to provide protection for the "institutions which the international community and the UIC recognise" and to train a future national security force.

He stresses that this force is not intended to threaten anyone and should be welcomed by all those who are committed to peace.

The US, Ethiopia and the Somali government have accused the UIC of being in league with al-Qaeda and say they want to destabilise East Africa.

The UIC strongly denies such suggestions.

Despite increasingly belligerent statements and the odd minor skirmish in recent weeks, the UIC and the government are due to resume peace talks in Sudan.

If that leads to an agreement, any peace force could be redirected to monitoring that deal.

The effects of the UN resolution on the prospect for a deal are not clear, however.

Mr Aboagye says it will reduce the military inequality between the two sides and so make an agreement more likely.

But Mr Bryden says it could reduce pressure on the hard-pressed government to reach a deal.

Over the past 15 years of conflict and anarchy, Somalis have grown used to seeing peace agreements come and go.

The one setting up the government two years ago was wildly feted but has not brought about peace.

They hope that before too long, there really will be a peace to be kept, whether by foreigners, or a national security force.


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