"What many longtime observers are telling me is that this is the best opportunity for peace that Somalia has had in the past 16 years," B. Lynn Pascoe, the Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, told a news conference in the Ethiopian capital.
Mr. Pascoe spoke after meeting earlier in the day with the Prime Minister of Ethiopia, Meles Zenawi, and visiting the Addis Ababa headquarters of the African Union. The AU mission in Somalia, known as AMISOM, was deployed in February to help stabilize Somalia's fledgling Transitional Federal Government (TFG) and create a more secure environment for reconciliation talks.
Under-Secretary-General Pascoe lauded the "excellent job" being carried out by the AU peacekeepers, who provided air-tight security for his surprise visit last week to Somalia's war-scarred capital, Mogadishu. But he also said the current force of roughly 1,200 Ugandan peacekeepers is in urgent needs of reinforcements.
With more troops, funding and logistical support, AMISOM could reach a critical mass on the ground that would permit Ethiopia to withdraw its troops from Somalia without leaving a dangerous security vacuum behind, he explained.
Mr. Pascoe declined to speculate about whether the AU mission will be eventually replaced by UN peacekeepers, saying that: "That is a decision for the Security Council to take." He is expected to brief both the Council and Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in New York later this week on the findings of his mission.
In his contacts throughout the region, Mr. Pascoe stressed how important it is for the leaders of Somalia's TFG to reach out more broadly and to engage political opponents in an "inclusive" process of national reconciliation. He expressed hope that an upcoming National Reconciliation and Governance Conference will be a useful first step in long process.
"When you are dealing with a society as shattered as Somalia, there is a long way to go to put the pieces back together," he said.
Provided that security improves and reconciliation moves forward, the next steps could include the establishment of a larger international humanitarian presence on the ground and an influx of development assistance to Somalia, Mr. Pascoe added. "Large amounts of aid would be required over the next few years," he said.
Accompany Mr. Pascoe on his mission to the region was Francois Lonsény Fall, the Secretary-General's Special Representative for Somalia and head of the Nairobi-based United Nations Political Office for Somalia (UNPOS).
Mr. Pascoe left New York last week, attending a meeting in London of the International Contact Group for Somalia before arriving in Nairobi on 7 of June. In Mogadishu the following day, he held talks with President Abdullai Yusuf and Prime Minister Mohamed Ali Gedi, while also receiving a briefing by Ali Mahdi, chairman of the commission organizing the reconciliation conference, which has been scheduled to begin on 14 June.
During a stop over the weekend in the Eritrean capital of Asmara, Mr. Pascoe exchanged views with President Isaias Afewerki about the situation in Somalia and how key countries in the region can contribute to peace and reconciliation. In Cairo, he met separately with Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul Gheit and Amr Moussa, the Secretary-General of the League of Arab States. Both expressed their desire to work with the UN in the pursuit of peace and stability in Somalia.