Ethiopian soldiers were preparing yesterday to leave Mogadishu

January 25th, 2007 Print Print Email Email

January 24, 2007 | By William Wallisin, The Financial Times

UN envoy Francois Fall, seen here in October 2006. Somalia has the best chance for peace in 16 years, but its leaders must reach out to their enemies to break the cycle of violence, Fall has said on a landmark visit to Mogadishu.(AFP/File/Isam Al-HAg)

As Ethiopian troops prepared to withdraw from Somalia, the deputy chairman of the African Union warned yesterday that the opportunity to forge a new beginning in the country after years of war and chaos was slipping away.
Patrick Mazimhaka was speaking as Ethiopia signalled its intention to pull out within days the troops it sent in a month ago to rout Islamic Court militias whose expanding rule over southern Somalia it considered a threat to regional security.

The first 300 or so Ethiopian soldiers were preparing yesterday to leave Mogadishu, the Somali capital, where they have helped install the weak Transitional Federal Government (TFG) that emerged from inter-clan negotiations in Kenya in 2004.

But while the international community argues over whether the entry of an African “stabilisation force” should come before or after the TFG has attracted broader support, Mogadishu is fast becoming more volatile.

Mr Mazimhaka said there had as yet been no clear commitment from outside the continent to fund an 8,000-strong AU peacekeeping mission. The mission – to which only Uganda and Malawi have so far pledged troops – is intended to plug the gap once Ethiopia withdraws.

AU officials hope the UN, whose last peacekeeping mission to Somalia ended in disaster in the mid-1990s, will take over responsibility within six months. “With every day that passes without a clear commitment to help the AU in Somalia, an opportunity is being squandered,” Mr Mazimhaka told the FT.

European Union foreign ministers on Monday offered to provide €15m ($19m, £10m) towards the AU mission, but are insisting the Somali government first forges a more viable alliance from among the warring factions within the country.

“A broad consensus is emerging that the primary challenge in stabilising Somalia is a political one,” said Matt Bryden, a Nairobi-based expert on Somalia. “The TFG has to create the environment in which peacekeeping can succeed and to do that it has to be in dialogue with the former leaders of the [Islamist-backed] courts and the constituencies that supported them,” he added.

Ethiopian and Somali government forces are still hunting down Islamist militiamen near Kenya’s borders and one of their more moderate leaders, Sheikh Sherif Ahmed, handed himself over to Kenyan police on Monday.

But Ethiopia appears loath to risk becoming embroiled long term in an insurgency threatened by harder line Islamists, some of whom are alleged by the US to have ties with al-Qaeda.

Meanwhile, conditions on the ground in Mogadishu were reverting fast to those that gave rise to Islamist rule, with widely despised clan militias re-entering the capital, Mr Bryden said.

The interim government has been talking with warlords and clan elders, but has so far refused to engage with any of the Islamists. The TFG “looks stronger than before but it is doubtful it represents a substantial constituency,” he said.

Mr Mazimhaka said it was necessary to put peacekeepers on the ground fast to avert a return to the chaos that has characterised Mogadishu since the overthrow of dictator Siad Barre in 1991.

“African countries do not consider it necessary to have a place stabilised and then send in troops. You send the troops first to create the right atmosphere [for peace],” he said.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2007

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