By Tsegaye Tadesse
ADDIS ABABA, Jan 5 (Reuters) – The African Union agreed in principle on Wednesday to provide troops to ensure the safe return of Somalia’s new government to Mogadishu.
But the AU’s Peace and Security Council gave no details on the force’s size, its rules of engagement or its deployment date, saying those decisions were to be made later.
The Somali government, currently based in the relative security of neighbouring Kenya, is picking a new cabinet before going home to try and rebuild the anarchic nation and rein in its fractious militia groups.
“The AU Peace and Security Council agreed in principle to deploy a peace force in Somalia in support of the efforts of the Somali transitional government during its relocation process and to undertake protection of government installations such as airports and seaports,” the council said in a statement following a meeting at the ambassadorial level.
The AU, its meager resources already stretched by a peacekeeping operation in Sudan’s troubled Darfur, urged the United Nations and the European Union to help finance the Somalia mission.
The EU said last year it would help fund an AU force if Somalia requested it, but has not said how much it would spend. It also said it would consider training troops.
The U.N. has been hesitant to commit, given that its last peacekeeping mission there ended in a bloody withdrawal in 1995.
Uganda has already offered 2,000 troops for the AU mission.
Somalia’s presidential spokesman Yusuf Ismail Mohammed told Reuters the government would not comment until it had received specifics.
“We don’t have any details,” he said.
PATCHWORK OF FIEFDOMS
Somalia’s new President Abdullahi Yusuf had appealed to the 53-member AU to provide 15,000 to 20,000 peacekeepers to disarm militias and stabilise the state, which descended into chaos with military dictator Mohamed Siad Barre’s 1991 overthrow.
Yusuf’s credibility hinges on his returning home and quickly pacifying the lawless country, diplomats have said.
The council said the shape and size of the force, to be named the African Mission in Somalia, would be decided in talks with Somali and Kenyan officials.
A separate report by AU military and security experts, seen by Reuters, recommended rehiring 5,000 former Somali policemen and the creation of a 30,000-strong armed security force.
Yusuf said in October that the government could field a security force of 30,000 within a year if foreign peacekeepers disarmed the militias and trained his troops.
Matt Bryden, a senior analyst at the International Crisis Group thinktank, said he expected any AU mandate to be limited.
“There will probably be a protection component, but no forcible disarmament,” he told Reuters.
Militiamen rule a patchwork of fiefdoms in Somalia, backed by rifles, truck-mounted machine guns and rocket launchers.