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U.S. diplomat wants African peacekeepers in Somalia by end of January
By Chris Tomlinson
NAIROBI, Kenya January 5, 2007– Somalia's president told top diplomats Friday that his country has a rare opportunity to reverse 15 years of anarchy but needs international help.
Officials from the United States, Europe, Africa and the Middle East are exploring ways to help the Somali government following the defeat of an Islamic movement that tried to destroy it.
“I feel that there is now a rare opportunity and a genuine breakthrough in the political situation in Somalia,” Somali President Abdullahi Yusuf said. “We need you to actualize financial, material and technical assistance.”
The meeting in Nairobi came a day after the top U.S. diplomat for Africa met with the presidents of Ethiopia and Uganda. Ethiopia provided the troops to defeat the Islamic forces and now wants to withdraw within a few weeks.
Somalia's last effective central government fell in 1991, when clan-based warlords overthrew military dictator Mohamed Siad Barre and then turned on each other. The current government was formed two years ago with the help of the United Nations, but has been weakened by internal rifts.
Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni has promised President Bush that he could supply between 1,000-2,000 troops to protect Somalia's transitional government and train its troops, Jendayi Frazer, assistant U.S. secretary of state for Africa, said Thursday after his talks with Museveni.
“We hope to have the Ugandans deployed before the end of the January,” said Frazer, who also met Patrick Mazimhaka, the deputy chairman of the African Union Commission, at the start of a regional tour aimed at helping Somalia's struggling government establish itself.
“The solution here is dialogue and reconciliation ... the peacekeeping force would just be there to stabilize the situation,” Frazer said.
Ugandan officials have said they need help paying for the peacekeeping operation. They also want a clear exit strategy. A U.N. peacekeeping force including American troops met disaster in Somalia in 1993, when militiamen shot down two U.S. Army Black Hawk helicopters and battled U.S. troops, killing 18. The U.S. left soon afterward and the U.N. scaled down.
In Washington on Thursday, Frazer's boss, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, said the U.S. will provide $16 million in aid to Somalia – $11.5 million in food, $1.5 million in nonfood assistance and $3.5 million to help refugees.
Frazer said there had been no request for U.S. troops or military assistance such as an airlift so far, but that she did not rule out that it could be requested and supplied later if necessary.
The government has asked U.S. warships to seal off Somalia's sea lanes to make sure suspected international terrorists and foreign militants cannot leave or enter the country, Frazer said.
In the past, Frazer accused the Islamic movement of harboring three suspects in the 1998 bombings of the U.S. Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. She said Thursday that while U.S. intelligence believed they were hiding in Mogadishu, they may have since fled and their whereabouts are unknown.