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Sending African Troops Into Somalia 'Would Trigger War'

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Sending African Troops Into Somalia 'Would Trigger War'

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· Thinktank warns of risks in American UN proposal
· Islamic courts would view move as provocative

Xan Rice, east Africa correspondent

Nairobi, November 28, 2006 – A US-backed proposal to send African troops into Somalia to support the weak government raises the risk of triggering an all-out war with the Islamic courts that could destabilize the entire region, a leading thinktank said yesterday. The International Crisis Group warned that approval of the draft US resolution, to be presented to the UN security council tomorrow, would be viewed by the Supreme Islamic Council of Somalia (Sics) as tantamount to a declaration of war.

Ethiopia and Eritrea, which have backed the government and courts respectively with both troops and weapons, would be further sucked into the conflict, the group said.

Backed by the African members of the security council, the draft resolution calls for the deployment of a regional military force to support the Transitional Federal Government (TFG), which has no army of its own and is vying for power with the heavily armed court militias. Countries that contribute troops, including Kenya, Uganda and Ethiopia, would be exempted from the UN arms embargo on Somalia.

While the mission's goal would be to strengthen the government and dissuade Sics - which enjoys local goodwill and controls most of south-central Somalia - from further expansion, the crisis group said the strategy would backfire.

Most Somalis, including a significant chunk of the government, are deeply opposed to any foreign intervention. Sics has repeatedly stated it will wage "jihad" on any outside troops.

"Actual deployment would be likely to fracture the parliament beyond repair and reinforce the impression that the TFG is simply a proxy for Ethiopia. The loss of legitimacy in the eyes of the Somali public would be irreversible," the ICG statement said. "Rather than wait for the TFG to arm itself, [Sics] might well launch a pre-emptive attack on [the government's] seat in Baidoa."

The US's support for the resolution has caused consternation among western diplomats dealing with Somalia, most of whom share the thinktank's prognosis if regional troops are to deploy. Previous US foreign policy decisions in the Horn of Africa have not helped engender trust.

Washington 's bungled policy of funding the Mogadishu warlords against the courts - which it accuses of harboring al-Qaida militants - is credited with speeding the rise of Sics, which gained control of the capital in June and has since expanded rapidly.

In July, the US formed the International Contact Group on Somalia, along with Britain, Italy, Norway, Tanzania and Sweden, in an attempt to help find a peaceful solution. On October 19 in Nairobi, the International Contact Group issued a joint statement declaring that it supported dialogue between the Somali government and Sics, which is scheduled to resume in Khartoum next month, as the best way forward.

Source: The Guardian


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