Saturday, March 21, 2009

Somalia, U.N. appeal for peace process backing

* Foreign minister admits some groups still refuse peace

* Says country needs extra battalions of AU troops

* Wants end to 17-year-old U.N. arms embargo on Somalia

* Security Council cites progress, but concerns remain

By Patrick Worsnip

UNITED NATIONS, March 20 (Reuters) - Somalia's new government, backed by the United Nations, appealed for financial and political support from around the world on Friday to bolster the fragile peace process in the Horn of Africa country.

The Somali foreign minister and the U.N. envoy to Somalia called at a Security Council meeting for funding for African Union peacekeepers and fledgling domestic security forces in the violence-torn nation and cooperation with the new authorities.

U.N. envoy to Somalia Ahmedou Ould Abdallah said the country, a byword for anarchy for 18 years, had come "back from the brink" since Sheikh Sharif Ahmed was elected president in January under a U.N.-brokered reconciliation process.

Foreign Minister Mohamed Abdullahi Omaar urged the council to forget stereotypes about his country. "Today in Somalia, there are no warlords. There are no clan wars. There are no political factions holding the country hostage," he said.

He admitted, however, that "some ... still refuse the offer of peace and dialogue."

The hardline Islamist group al Shabaab, together with allied militia, control large swathes of southern Somalia, including the strategic towns of Baidoa and Kismayu.

Al Shabaab, which fought pro-government Ethiopian troops until they left in January, has vowed to go on attacking the 3,500-strong AU peacekeeping force known as AMISOM. Eleven soldiers from Burundi died in an attack last month.

Omaar said it was urgent that extra battalions of AU troops be sent to bring the AMISOM peacekeepers closer to their target strength of 8,000, and that the domestic joint security force be funded and equipped. The force was created following accords late last year between the then government and Ahmed's moderate Islamist faction.


The United Nations has set up trust funds to finance AMISOM and the joint security force. Diplomats said a pledging conference for the funds would be held in Brussels on April 22. Britain and Turkey said they would make donations.

Omaar also called for an end to a 17-year-old U.N. arms embargo on Somalia.

Somalia and the AU have repeatedly called for the United Nations to send a full-fledged peacekeeping force to Somalia to take over from the AU force. The Security Council, which has so far delayed a decision, will discuss the matter again in June.

Omaar said Somalia's government, seen hitherto as weak and unrepresentative, could only succeed if it was accepted by the international community, which, he said, "must put the past and its disappointments behind us. We are at a landmark moment and we cannot afford to fail."

Ould Abdallah said the new government "has a convincing legitimacy. ... There is therefore an obligation to respect and cooperate with these new authorities and do no harm to their institutions and credibility."

In a statement, the Security Council welcomed "positive political developments" in Somalia but voiced "grave concern" at persistent insecurity, human rights violations, acts of piracy off the coast and a continued humanitarian crisis.

More than 3 million people need humanitarian aid in Somalia as a result of violence and food shortages, according to U.N. estimates. Somalia has been wracked by factional fighting since a dictatorship collapsed in 1991. (Editing by Xavier Briand)

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