Peacekeeping Force For Somalia Approved

Somalia Prime Minister Ali Mohamed Gedi said war could start in that country this month.
Somalia Prime Minister Ali Mohamed Gedi said war could start in that country this month. (Karel Prinsloo - AP)
By Colum Lynch
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 7, 2006

UNITED NATIONS, Dec. 6 -- The U.N. Security Council unanimously approved a resolution authorizing an East African peacekeeping force to prevent an alliance of Islamic militias from overthrowing Somalia's fragile interim government.

The decision marked the first time the 15-nation council has backed a foreign intervention in Somalia since U.S. and U.N. troops withdrew from the country in the 1990s. It reflected fears that Islamic militias, known as the Islamic Courts Union, may be poised to topple the country's internationally recognized government.

The Islamic movement seized control of Mogadishu, Somalia's capital, over the summer and it has been extending its control throughout the country. It threatens the government's stronghold in Baidoa.

The Islamic militias have imposed a strict version of Islamic law in communities they control. A local Islamic religious leader, Sheik Hussein Barre Rage, told the Associated Press on Wednesday that residents in Bulo Burto will be beheaded if they refuse to pray five times a day.

Those who do not follow the law "will definitely be beheaded according to Islamic law," the news agency reported. "As Muslims, we should practice Islam fully, not in part, and that is what our religion enjoins us to do."

Ethiopia has sent thousands of troops to help prop up the government while its rival, Eritrea, has deployed thousands of troops to fight alongside the militias, a recent U.N. report said. Their presence has fueled concern that the conflict could spread into a bigger regional war.

Somali Prime Minister Ali Mohamed Gedi warned in a recent AP interview that war in Somalia could begin as soon as the rainy season ends later this month.

The resolution was passed after the United States accommodated a European request to exclude participation by Somalia's neighbors, Ethiopia, Kenya and Djibouti, in the new force. It empowers a new force, which is expected to be led by Uganda, to protect the country's transitional leaders and to train a local security force.

Resolution 1725 partly lifts a 14-year arms embargo so the East African force, which will be formed by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development, can equip and arm its peacekeepers. And it calls on the Islamic militias to halt any "further military expansion" and negotiate a power-sharing agreement with the Transitional Federal Government.

Critics said the decision to authorize foreign intervention without the approval of the Islamic militias may provoke even greater violence in Somalia. "The United States is leading the authorization of another intervention force in another Muslim country against the will of a large percentage of the people," said John Prendergast, an Africa specialist for the Brussels-based International Crisis Group. "The use of force as a substitute for diplomacy will have disastrous results in Somalia.

"You've got to get a negotiated power-sharing deal" before sending in a peacekeeping force, he added. "Doing the reverse simply alienates the courts and potentially will drive them to preemptive military action."

The United States and the resolution's other sponsors insisted that it was not intended to challenge the Islamic militias militarily and that they support a political settlement between the two sides. "The primary purpose of this deployment is to help stabilize Somalia by providing security in Baidoa, and protection and training" for the interim government, John R. Bolton, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, told the council. It is "not to engage in offensive actions against the Union of Islamic Courts."

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