Somalia's newly elected president, Abdullahi Yusuf, has asked the African Union to send 20,000 peacekeepers to disarm militias controlling his lawless Horn of Africa country, a spokesman for the organization said Saturday.
"The president has formally asked the AU for a 20,000-strong peacekeeping force to help in collecting millions of small arms known to be owned by the Somali people," the spokesman, Adam Thiam, told reporters.
Thiam said the request would be considered by the union's Peace and Security Council, which is scheduled to meet Monday. Yusuf made the appeal to the chairman of the African Union Commission, Alpha Oumar Konare, during a meeting Saturday in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa.
Yusuf was elected president earlier this month by Somalia's transitional parliament after almost two years of frequently interrupted talks that were held in neighboring Kenya because of insecurity at home. Yusuf, a former army colonel, made his first appeal for peacekeepers at his swearing-in ceremony last week.
The European Union foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, also on a visit to African Union headquarters in Addis Ababa, said the E.U. would offer funding for a peacekeeping mission and consider training Somali security forces.
"The president has not given me any specific request. But if the request comes . . . the E.U. will assist Somalia and finance a peacekeeping mission as it has done for Darfur," Solana said at a news conference, referring to the troubled region in western Sudan. Solana added that the E.U. would host a donor conference for Somalia on Nov. 28.
Somalia descended into chaos after clan-based factions ousted dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991 and then turned on each other, transforming the country of 7 million people into a patchwork of fiefdoms.
U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan issued a warning last Tuesday against a hasty expansion of U.N. nation-building activities in the failed state, saying there must first be greater political progress coupled with serious efforts by Somali leaders to improve security. The international community is also wary of engaging in Somalia after a failed U.S. peacekeeping mission forced the United States and later the United Nations to withdraw in 1993.
Matthew Bryden, a senior analyst at the International Crisis Group, a Brussels-based research organization, said that "the heavy lifting has to be done by the Somalis first."
"No one is going to send troops in to fight, which is what peace enforcement entails, especially after what happened in '93," Bryden added, referring to a botched raid in which two U.S. Black Hawk helicopters were shot down in Mogadishu, the Somali capital, and the bloodied corpses of U.S. servicemen were dragged through the streets.