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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2966

Global Community Shies Away from Volatile Somalia

By Thalif Deen, Inter Press Service

United Nations, 18 December, (IPS): - The international community is shying away from one of the most politically-troubled and dangerous war zones in the Horn of Africa: the perpetually strife-torn Somalia.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon Wednesday confessed he has virtually given up all hopes of sending a U.N. peacekeeping force into the country, widely described as a failed state.

"The danger of anarchy in Somalia is clear and present. So is the need to act," he told reporters during his year-end press conference.

"I have spoken with the leaders of 50 countries and three international organizations about organizing a multinational force. Not one nation has volunteered to lead," although some had agreed to provide troops, he added.

Ban admitted that the situation in Somalia is "very volatile and dangerous, risky for peacekeeping operations to operate there".

The mandate of the proposed U.N. force is expected to be very much limited, in terms of using firepower and in terms of launching military operations.

"This is a peacekeeping operation, this is not a peace-enforcing operation, so therefore there should be some differentiation and there should be some clear understanding on the role and mandate and function of peacekeeping," Ban said.

"If there is no peace to keep," he noted, "peacekeeping operations are not supposed to be there."

At a press conference Tuesday, outgoing U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said that Washington is hoping that the U.N. will be able to raise a new peacekeeping force Somalia by the end of this year.

But the secretary-general said he has been "trying hard" during the last four months to establish such a multinational force, as requested by the Security Council.

He pointed out that there was only one country -- which he did not identify -- among the 15 Security Council members which had expressed willingness to provide funding, airlifts and all other equipment.

A few had volunteered troops, he said, but no one had offered to lead the proposed peacekeeping force, which is expected to be "a highly capable, self-sustaining, expeditionary force with full capability to defend itself against hostile threats".

Most member states are unwilling to risk their troops in a highly dangerous environment.

The growing incidence of piracy off the coasts of Somalia is another serious concern which may have to be handled by the new U.N. force.

Since January 2007, the African Union Mission to Somalia (AMISOM), numbering about 3,450 troops, has been unsuccessfully trying to keep the peace. But that total troop strength is far below the authorized number of 8,000 troops.

The AMISOM troops, mandated to support the Western-backed transitional government of President Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed, are mostly from Burundi, Uganda, Ghana and Nigeria. This force was expected to be replaced by a proposed multinational U.N. force.

But in the absence of a U.N. force, Ban has asked member states to reinforce AMISOM with additional troops, funds and equipment. The response has been disappointing.

In his latest report to the Security Council last September, the secretary-general said "there have been unprecedented and unprovoked attacks against AMISOM positions" this year, with several soldiers killed or injured.

Early this week, Somalia was also plunged into a domestic political crisis when President Ahmed defied parliament and tried to fire the prime minister and appoint one of his own henchmen to the post.

Meanwhile, the Islamic insurgents have been gradually taking control of some of the major towns and cities, while the transitional government continues to be holed up in Baidoa in central Somalia.

At the press conference, the secretary-general also expressed concern over the future of Zimbabwe, another African country in the throes of a political and humanitarian crisis.

"The humanitarian situation grows more alarming every day. Zimbabwe stands on the brink of economic, social and political collapse," he said. "I said so to President [Robert] Mugabe in Doha several weeks ago. I told him things needed to change, urgently, and that I and the U.N. stand ready to help."

Ban said that Mugabe had agreed to receive the U.N. envoy, Haile Menkerios.

"Now we are told that the timing is not right. If this is not the time, when is?" he asked.

Zimbabwe has also been hit by a cholera epidemic with over 1,000 deaths.

Asked to sum up his experiences during his two-year tenure as secretary-general, Ban said: "If I may just reflect personally, I started my job as secretary-general with excitement. It was very exciting for me, personally and officially."

Then this excitement and exciting period turned into a sort of a very humbling period, he said. "Having seen so many people whose human rights, whose personal well-being had been not well treated, I felt very much humbled."

"Then there is always a problem of lack of resources and lack of political will; thus I have not been able to see the progress of all the initiatives and all the measures and all the country issues, which made me very much frustrated and troubled."

He said that 2008 was also a year facing multiple crises -- food, energy and finance.

"There are so many issues where many stakeholders are to be involved. Then with the global financial crisis, still we are feeling sort of a panicking. Many people have felt panic. These are some things that I feel personally, just a personal reflection," he added.

- Asian Tribune -

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