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Last Updated: Tuesday, 26 December 2006, 11:26 GMT
African Union tested over Somalia
By Martin Plaut
BBC Africa analyst

The African Union (AU) has backed Ethiopia's military involvement in the growing crisis in Somalia.

In a BBC interview, senior AU official Patrick Mazimhaka conceded that the union had failed to act in time.

Children fleeing fighting in Somalia
Aid agencies have warned of the civilian cost of fighting
African leaders have seldom been known for their decisive intervention in the affairs of other African states so it was something of a surprise to hear an African Union spokesman coming out quite so decisively in favour of Somalia's transitional government.

In one sense the decision is entirely logical. The Somali government, which was formed two years ago after months of bitter wrangling among Somali factions, was the 14th attempt to establish a new government for the country.

President Abdullahi Yusuf was recognised not just by the African Union, but also by the United Nations.

But he had a narrow following among Somalis, an appeal that was further eroded when he immediately turned to Ethiopia - Somalia's traditional enemy - for 20,000 troops to bolster his administration.

Map

The regional African grouping was badly split on the issue. Ethiopia wanted forces sent to assist the new government. Eritrea was vociferously opposed.

The United Nations pondered its options, more concerned by the problems of Iraq and Darfur.

Finally this month, the UN Security Council came down in favour of sending African troops to Somalia to support the transitional government.

Uganda, which had previously offered a battalion, decided against.

Sudan has been mentioned, as has South Africa. But so far there are no firm plans for providing the 8,000-strong peacekeeping force envisaged by the African Union.

Later this week the African Union hopes to get together with the Arab League and the regional grouping - Igad - to try to chart a way forward.

In the meantime, Ethiopia, now with the blessing of the African Union and the covert support of the United States, is fighting the war in Somalia that others shied away from.




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