Success in Somalia won’t be easy task

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DAKAR, Senegal (AP) – More than a decade after the U.S. and U.N. pulled failed peacekeeping missions out of Somalia, African governments are under growing pressure to mount a new intervention in one of the continent’s most violent and unstable nations.

The continent’s leaders may have a tough time succeeding, however, judging from past peacekeeping missions and the African-led force currently deployed to maintain security in Darfur, which has been beset by numerous problems.

Somalia has had no real peace since 1991, when warlords overthrew longtime dictator Mohamed Siad Barre and turned their guns on each other, plunging the Horn of Africa country into chaos.

A conservative Islamic movement brought some stability after it seized much of southern Somalia last year, but the group’s hold on the country was short-lived. Ethiopian and Somali troops routed the movement’s fighters in a lightning-quick campaign that began in late December.

Now Ethiopia is anxious to withdraw its troops, and many fear they may leave behind a power vacuum that could spawn yet more bloodshed.

Warlords agreed earlier this month to disarm and join a new army, but the peace is fragile. On Friday night, unidentified gunmen fired mortars at the presidential palace in Mogadishu, sparking a firefight with government forces. A government spokesman said no one inside the presidential compound was injured in the attack.

The U.N., U.S. and European Union have all called for the rapid deployment of African troops to prevent the country from slipping back into anarchy.

In Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, an African Union assessment team on Friday recommended deploying about 8,000 African peacekeepers for a six-month mission that would eventually be taken over by the United Nations.

But significant obstacles stand in the way before the force can be deployed.

The African Union force would likely be charged with protecting the government and training Somali militiamen who would make up a new, national army. But Peter Takirambudde, director of New York-based Human Rights Watch’s Africa program, said problems could arise due to the lack of time to prepare for a mission and Somalia’s long history of brutal clan warfare.

That sentiment is reflected by a general reluctance on the part of African governments to provide troops to what could be a dangerous mission in a country notorious for the botched U.S. and U.N. operations in the early 1990s. No nation has publicly pledged soldiers except Uganda, whose promised 1,500 soldiers could only be dispatched if its parliament approves.

African nations also say they don’t have many troops to spare because of their large contributions to U.N. missions elsewhere on the continent and worldwide.

In addition, any Somalia mission will require substantial logistic and financial support. Bearing the financial burden alone may also be prompting reluctance among African countries, although the U.S. and the European Union have already promised $33 million for the mission.

Another obstacle is the African Union’s lack of experience in running peacekeeping missions. The group’s current 7,000-strong peacekeeping venture in Sudan’s war-wracked Darfur has been plagued by logistic troubles and criticized for not doing enough to protect civilians. Commanders say they simply don’t have enough equipment, vehicles, helicopters and planes to do the job.

Other regional peacekeeping missions have had better results in the past, albeit with the support of the U.N.

A West African peace force called ECOMOG led by Nigerian troops restored Sierra Leone’s government to power in the mid-1990s after it had been ousted by a rebel junta. War started again several years later, prompting U.N. intervention backed by British firepower that finally ended the war in 2000.

A South African-led U.N. peacekeeping force in Burundi helped bring an end to a 12-year civil war dating back to 1993, though fighting continued outside the capital throughout their deployment.

In Ivory Coast, French and U.N. peacekeepers managed to prevent the government and rebels from engaging in an all-out war. The 18,000-member U.N. force currently deployed to Congo – the largest peacekeeping mission in the world – has also struggled to contain militiamen, but has kept a lid on wider violence in that country.

Takirambudde said the trend in Africa is toward all-African interventions, in part because the continent is perceived as having little strategic value to the rest of the world.

Senegal’s army spokesman, Col. Antoine Wardini, said African governments had the will to carry out such missions. But logistics and funding will pose problems for the foreseeable future.

“They don’t have enough means to conduct operations far away from their homeland,” Wardini said of African troops. “But we do want to solve the conflicts on our continent. We have to be involved, because it’s our business.”

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