The United Nations and the Africa Union are planning to send two
missions to Somalia to see how to best address the critical needs
of civilians, a UN official said on Wednesday.
The humanitarian and security missions are expected to meet
Islamic leaders who control the bullet-riddled capital Mogadishu
and central town of Baidoa, said top UN envoy for Somalia Francois
Regional analysts also said on Wednesday that the rapid rise of
Somalia's Islamic militias has prompted a flurry of diplomatic
efforts to stabilize the troubled country in the Horn of
The AU and western diplomats on Monday decided to send officials
to Somalia to assess the possibility of deploying a peacekeeping
force to the country ripped apart by 15 years of anarchy.
That has the backing of President Abdullahi Yusuf, head of
Somalia's virtually powerless transitional government, who flew to
Ethiopia Tuesday to demand speedy foreign intervention.
Experts said the current situation in Somalia could allow the
re-activation of dialogue between the various factions and lead to
the revival of a peace process in the country.
Fall said their meeting in Jowhar would help the UN better
understand the Union of Islamic Courts.
"We don't have a lot of information on the courts. We don't know
exactly what their intentions are," he said.
Regional powers support intervention out of fear of an Islamic
state on their doorsteps, while western governments are worried the
country could become a haven for terrorists.
The mission will be the first formal contact between UN
officials and the Union of Islamic Courts in Somalia since the
union captured much of southern Somalia.
The African Uion (AU) agreed to send a separate team to assess
the possibility of deploying peacekeepers in the lawless nation,
which has been without an effective central government since
The UN officials said the prevailing calm that has followed the
end of more than four months of fighting between the Islamic courts
and other faction leaders offers an opportunity to help some
250,000 internally displaced people in Mogadishu and an additional
17,000 people displaced by recent clashes.
UN humanitarian coordinator for Somalia Eric Laroche said
priority needs were in the areas of health, water and sanitation
"We will focus on scaling up existing activities, tapping on
local resources and further building on positive coping mechanisms
developed at the community level," Laroche said.
The deployment of any peacekeepers, which has been opposed by
the Islamists would require the UN to lift its arms embargo on
Despite threats and numerous public demonstrations against
deploying foreign peacekeepers in Somalia, the parliament in Baidoa
last week approved the deployment of African Union peacekeepers in
President Yusuf says the government cannot operate without the
help of foreign peacekeepers.
But many Somalis say they are beginning to believe hard-line
clerics, who insist the president and his Ethiopian allies, with
the support of the United States, would use the peacekeeping
mission as a way to take control in Somalia.
The Islamic courts last week held large protests against
Islamic court leader Sharif Sheikh Ahmed said their intention is
to promote Islamic law, but denies they are like the Taliban.
"We are opposed to any form of foreign military presence in our
country," said Sheikh Abdulkadir Ali, vice-chairman of the Union of
"There is no need for them at this time, since the warlords, who
were the main obstacle to peace and security in the country, no
longer pose any serious threat. With goodwill and dialogue among us
(Somalis), we can solve any remaining minor security issues on our
own," Ali added.
However, analysts warned that there are signs that more radical
elements may yet emerge and take control.
Early this week, against the orders of the leadership, Islamic
militia shut down cinemas in Jowhar that were screening World Cup
football, upsetting football fans.
"We ordered all the cinema hall in Jowhar to close temporarily.
In principle, we are against watching of western films," Ali
The fledgling government initially welcomed the Islamists'
victory against warlords but the peacekeeper issue has divided
Experts say that the Islamic courts had strong backing from
people living in towns under their control, and that the
government, which has the support of much of the international
community, has no option but to open a dialogue.
However, Yusuf has previously ruled out talks with the Islamic
courts' leadership unless they meet three conditions, namely to
withdraw their militias from Mogadishu, recognize his government,
In return, the Islamists refused to have talks until the
government said it does not want foreign peacekeepers.
Tension is also high in the Horn of Africa, after the Islamists
said Ethiopian troops had crossed the border, a claim the
Ethiopians have denied.
"Ethiopia has absolutely nothing to do with the latest fighting
in Mogadishu and other towns between the militias of the warlords
and the Islamic Courts Union," said a statement from the Ethiopian
"It has had no role at whatever stage of the crisis, from the
beginning up until now."
UN envoy for Somalia Fall said that there were reports of troop
movements on both sides of the Ethiopian border.
"There's a risk that if the Islamist militias move close to the
border, the Ethiopians might react," he said.
Ethiopia has been mentioned as one of the countries that could
send peacekeepers to Somalia, but the Addis Ababa is deeply
distrusted by some Somalis.
Ethiopia is also seen as being close to President Yusuf and
there are some unconfirmed reports that Ethiopian troops have been
spotted in Baidoa, the town 200 kilometers north of Mogadishu,
where the fledging government is based.
During the 1990s, Ethiopia helped Yusuf expel an Islamic group
from the northern Puntland region that he controlled.
International policy group warned the move to deploy foreign
troops in Somalia could arouse feelings in the newly dominant
Islamic courts movement, which has everything to lose by foreign
"Any sort of AU intervention, which would most likely be a cover
for Ethiopian intervention, is most likely to be highly divisive
and is likely to derail any attempt at peaceful negotiation between
the government and the courts," Suleiman Baldo, Africa program
director of the Brussels-based International Crisis Group.
"The Islamist courts will be very hostile to any sort of
Ethiopian intervention in Somalia," Baldo said.
Earlier this week, the United Nations' World Food Program and
UNICEF warned that the recent fighting and years of drought had
pushed Somalis to their limit, creating the highest rates of
malnutrition seen in years.
WFP Somalia country representative Zlatan Milisic and Christian
Balslev-Olesen of UNICEF said the situation was compounded by the
difficulty in reaching the 1.7 million people who needed help in
the wake of the drought.
"We must act now. The present calm, following weeks of fighting,
offers an opportunity that the Somali and international communities
must grasp to get assistance to thousands of malnourished children
and their families," said Balslev-Olesen.
Fighting between Islamic courts and faction leaders belonging to
an anti-terrorism alliance began in February.
More than 350 people, most of them civilians, died in the
clashes, and some 2,000 wounded were treated at Mogadishu's two
In May, the Islamic courts took over control of the capital,
restoring calm and sending the faction leaders fleeing.
(Xinhua News Agency June 22, 2006)