Global Policy Forum

UN Envoy Calls on Saudi Arabia to Play a Leading Role

Associated Press
December 18, 2007

The new U.N. envoy for Somalia urged Saudi Arabia on Monday to play a leading role in bringing peace to the violence-wracked country by using its "moral authority" to get more troops on the ground and bring the opposing parties together. Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah said he wants to simultaneously launch new political talks and a new security initiative that would beef up the 1,800 African Union troops now in Somalia as an interim measure, ahead of an eventual takeover by U.N. peacekeepers.

He told the U.N. Security Council that with the support of Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, he plans to pursue this two-track "road to peace" without delay because security is deteriorating daily. He asked council members for their support and told reporters afterward their reaction was "very positive." Ould-Abdallah said 17 years and millions — perhaps billions — of dollars have failed to restore stability to the Horn of Africa nation and it is time for the Security Council to take a new course of action.

He warned that maintaining a "wait and see" attitude would likely further divide Somalia and potentially see a spillover of violence into peaceful regions. And he said a withdrawal by the international community could create "a humanitarian catastrophe" and "an even more serious power vacuum" in the country. Immediate and effective action on the political and security fronts "is not a magic recipe for peace, but could help Somalia to move in the right direction," Ould-Abdallah said.

Somalia has not had a functioning government since clan-based warlords toppled dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991 and then turned on each other, sinking the poverty-stricken nation of seven million people into chaos. Its weak transitional government, backed by Ethiopian troops, is struggling to quash an Islamic insurgency that has killed thousands of civilians this year.

The 1,800 Ugandan peacekeepers who arrived in Somalia early this year are officially the vanguard of a larger African Union peacekeeping force, although no other country has sent reinforcements so far. In August, the Security Council called on the secretary-general to begin planning for the possible deployment of U.N. peacekeepers to replace the AU force. Ban opposed a U.N. deployment in early November because of heavy fighting and suggested instead a robust multinational force or a coalition of volunteer nations to help restore security. But in late November, the Security Council rejected Ban's opposition and underlined its call for contingency planning for a U.N. force.

Ould-Abdallah told the council that the Somali crisis is an international problem and "the U.N. must launch diplomatic action to mobilize a consensus to stabilize the country." On the security front, he said, a new initiative must reinforce the African Union force as an interim measure before U.N. peacekeepers deploy. "For this, Saudi Arabia, the custodian of the two Muslim holiest sites and a close by neighbor with many Somali refugees should be invited to play a leading role," he told the council. "Support from one or two NATO member states should be made available if necessary." Ould-Abdallah told reporters he had not spoken to the Saudis about sending troops, but he stressed: "They have a moral authority. They have prestige."

The troops could come from any African or south Asian country, or one or two NATO countries, he said, citing Indonesia, Jordan, Pakistan and Bangladesh as possible troop contributors, he said.

On the political front, Ould-Abdallah said, the transitional government should strengthen its ranks and make overtures to the opposition, preferably by establishing a government of national unity. Government contacts with the opposition should take place to prepare for higher level meetings, preferably in a location close to Somalia, without any "freelance mediators," he said.

Ould-Abdallah said he was preparing the agenda, identifying a possible list of participants and the timing for this political process which should include political leaders, members of the business community and the Somali diaspora. "I am convinced that when left alone, Somali are ready to join their ranks and efforts to get their country back on its feet in the next few months," he said.

Britain is drafting a Security Council statement to formally respond to Ould-Abdallah's briefing. If he gets the council's green light for his twin-track approach, Ould-Abdallah said "I will approach the Saudis to say look, you have experience, you are a neighbor, you have your own method. Is it possible for you, through private channels, to initiate" contacts to reinforce security and promote reconciliation?

More Information on the UN Security Council
More Information on Somalia
More Information the Secretary General: Ban Ki-moon
More Information on Peacekeeping


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