U.N. Envoy Urges Cease-Fire in Somalia

The Associated Press
Wednesday, December 27, 2006; 7:28 AM

UNITED NATIONS -- The top U.N. envoy to Somalia urged the Security Council to demand an immediate cease-fire between Ethiopian forces backing Somalia's weak government and the powerful Islamic militia that has controlled much of the country.

But the appeal Tuesday from Francois Lonseny Fall, the U.N. secretary-general's special representative to Somalia, failed to produce results.

The Security Council couldn't agree on a draft presidential statement circulated by Qatar calling for an immediate cease-fire and the withdrawal of all foreign forces, specifically Ethiopian troops.

Other council members _ including the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and African members Ghana and Tanzania _ objected to singling out Ethiopia and insisted on talks between the parties and a political agreement to achieve stability before foreign forces withdraw.

Discussions were to continued Wednesday afternoon.

Meanwhile, Alpha Oumar Konare, chairman of the African Union Commission, has called a meeting Wednesday in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, of the 53-nation AU, the Arab League, and the Intergovernmental Authority on Development, a seven-nation East African group, to try to end the fighting and resume dialogue between Somalia's warring parties.

Fall told an emergency meeting of the Security Council on Tuesday that fighting has expanded across a 250-mile-wide area in Somalia, forcing the U.N. to evacuate and halt assistance to 2 million people in the south and central regions affected by the conflict and recent floods.

Civilians have been fleeing the fighting and 35,000 new Somali refugees have crossed into neighboring Kenya, he said.

"Unless a political settlement is reached through negotiations, Somalia, I am afraid, will face a period of deepening conflict and heightened instability, which would be disastrous for the long-suffering people of Somalia, and could also have serious consequences for the entire region," Fall said.

After Fall's briefing, council members met behind closed doors on Qatar's draft statement, focusing on how to address the issue of foreign forces. Ethiopia remains an especially tricky issue because its troops are there at the invitation of the U.N.-backed Somali government _ a point emphasized by State Department spokesman Gonzalo Gallegos.

Acting U.S. Ambassador Alejandro Wolff said the statement should not focus on any country, calling the situation in Somalia very complex with the Council of Islamic Courts "expanding, threatening neighboring countries, abusing human rights."

"Ethiopia has been threatened itself. There are other forces inside the country, Eritrea in particular," Wolff said, although Eritrea denies it has troops in Somalia.

France's U.N. Ambassador Jean-Marc de La Sabliere said "what is important is to have a cease-fire ... and to have a dialogue resuming."

"It's a war, so the risk of destabilizing the whole region is one concern, and the second one is there is a humanitarian situation, which is very bad," he said. "The only solution is a negotiated solution. Everybody has to work for it."

The Security Council has backed the transitional government, and on Dec. 6 it authorized an African force to protect the government's beleaguered leaders in the town of Baidoa against the increasingly powerful Islamic militia _ but no country has yet offered troops for that force.

Somalia has not had an effective government since 1991 when warlords overthrew dictator Mohamed Siad Barre and then turned on one another. A government was formed two years ago with the help of the U.N., but it has struggled to assert its authority against the Islamic militants.

Until now, the government has not been able to extend its influence outside Baidoa, where it is headquartered about 140 miles northwest of Mogadishu. The country was largely under the control of warlords until June, when the Islamic militia movement seized control of the capital and much of southern Somalia.

© 2006 The Associated Press