Global Policy Forum

Somalia Has Best Chance in Years for Peace


By Evelyn Leopold

March 2, 2007

Somalia appears to have reached a "turning point" in emerging from chaos but needs a minimum of 8,000 foreign troops and aid to stave off further anarchy, according a senior U.N. official in the country. The northeast African nation has not had a functioning government since dictator Muhammad Siad Barre was toppled in 1991, and American and U.N. troops in subsequent years have failed to quell fighting warlords. "I think Somalia is at a turning point and I think we need to convince people that things can change in Somalia," Eric Laroche, the U.N. humanitarian coordinator, told a new conference on Thursday. The Ethiopian-backed Transitional Federal Government routed the Islamic movement, known as the Union of the Islamic Courts, three months ago. The vanguard of an African peacekeeping force on Thursday landed in the government stronghold of Baidoa in the south. The African Union hopes to send 8,000 troops but may not be able to raise that number. The U.N. Security Council has authorized the African force but has not made a decision on whether to supplement that operation with U.N. troops.


Laroche, who spent much of the past year in Somalia, said there was no point in the Ethiopians withdrawing if not enough peacekeepers could be found. If you have 4,000 troops, forget about it, it's not enough," he said. "I think 8,000 troops is probably the minimum we can get and therefore it raises the issue of political will -- are we willing to make a change in Somalia, are we willing to really provide troops, are we really willing to finance those troops?" Laroche said Somalis were tired of so many years of warfare, especially in the capital, Mogadishu, and in many ways backed the new government, based on clans, rather than warlords. "It's a kind of representativeness, that was not the case with the previous warlords coming to Mogadishu," he said. "And when the Islamists came in they told me they don't have a clue (of how) to run a country." Laroche acknowledged that shellings were increasing "but that is not a good reason not to do anything." "If you don't believe that the (new) institutions are the key solution, you admit that you want to go back into chaos for another 15 years," he said. Security was paramount, including organizing a police force, demobilizing militia and helping the thousands of civilians who fled fighting return home. "Having forces is nothing unless we have demobilization and re-integration of all these fighters. There are so many fighters in Mogadishu," he said. The interim government, meanwhile, is still based in the Baidoa, even though the Islamists are out of Mogadishu. Laroche said more than 70 government buildings were in such disrepair there was no place for officials to work.

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