Interview-Somalia urges Africa to honour peacekeeper pledges

By Andrew Cawthorne

NAIROBI, May 9 (Reuters) - African nations that promised to send peacekeepers to Somalia must keep their word now that the worst of the fighting there seems over, a Somali envoy said on Wednesday.

"They have promised before, so we just say 'keep your promise'," Somalia's representative in Kenya, Mohamed Ali Nur, said of past commitments by various African nations to contribute to an 8,000-strong mission to pacify Somalia.

So far, only Uganda has sent troops.

Its 1,500-man contingent began patrolling Mogadishu in recent days after a lull in fighting that killed at least 1,300 people in the city since February, according to locals.

Burundi, Malawi, Nigeria and Ghana had also expressed willingness to send soldiers for the African Union (AU) force.

But the vicious fighting in Mogadishu -- which also saw some 365,000 people flee the city, according to the United Nations -- has unnerved some military commanders around the region.

And as with its troubled peacekeeping foray in Sudan's Darfur region, the AU faces a shortage of money and equipment.

"These countries say they have the troops ready, but there is a problem of logistics. So we appeal to the donor community to help," said Nur, the Somali ambassador-designate who is waiting to present credentials to Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki.

"We are trying to send some delegates to (African) capital cities to push this, to appeal and to lobby."

Nur said the recent offensive by allied Ethiopian and Somali government troops had all but defeated an insurgency in Mogadishu led by Islamist militants.

So the relative calm gave a window of opportunity for more African troops to come in, and allow Ethiopian troops -- whose presence is controversial in the eyes of many Somalis -- to leave after helping the government set up in Mogadishu.

"It is the right moment in time. We don't want Somalia to come again into a vacuum," he said.


With hardline Islamist figures like Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys and Aden Hashi Ayro still at large, however, Nur acknowledged anti-government violence was not over.

"Some of them are hiding in Mogadishu and some of them will do guerrilla attacks or bombs as they did this week when they bombed the vehicle that belonged to the police commissioner of Mogadishu," he said. "But the government will not stop (working) to clean them and bring back stability."

Nur said refugees -- whom the government puts at 200,000, lower than the U.N. figure -- were flooding back to Mogadishu.

"In the last few days, over half of them came back," Nur said. "Most of their houses were destroyed. They have come back to schools and other empty places."

Some 20 foreign jihadist fighters were captured in the recent fighting, he added.

The Somali envoy was confident a scheduled June 14 national reconciliation conference in Mogadishu, already delayed from April due to insecurity, would now go ahead.

Preparations would start once donors released the $8 million to $9 million needed to fund the conference, which is expected to be attended by 3,000 delegates and last two months, he said.

"We've been fighting in a clan way for 16 years," Nur said, referring to the anarchy in Somalia since the 1991 ouster of a dictator. "So we want people to come to the table with no guns, and with their white flags, and try to forget and forgive each other. We want to talk about how to re-build our country."

With a security force of about 10,000 men now, and another 3,000 being trained, the Somali government was strong enough to guarantee security for the conference, he said.

"The Somali people are tired of the bloodshed."


Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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