Global Policy Forum

Security Council Planning for UN Peacekeepers in Somalia

The Associated Press
May 15, 2008

The Security Council unanimously approved a resolution on Thursday calling for a U.N. political presence in conflict-wracked Somalia for the first time in years and setting conditions for the deployment of U.N. peacekeepers.

The resolution urged the United Nations to move its Somalia political office from Kenya to the Horn of Africa nation. The council also said it will consider deploying U.N. peacekeepers "at an appropriate time" to replace African Union troops now on the ground, subject to progress in improving political reconciliation and security conditions on the ground.

That will be difficult in a country that has not had a functioning government since clan-based warlords toppled dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991. The warlords then turned on each other, sinking the poverty-stricken nation of 7 million people into chaos — and the current weak transitional government, backed by Ethiopian troops, is struggling to quash a re-emerging Islamic insurgency that has killed thousands of civilians.

Nonetheless, the resolution showed the council's determination to support Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's efforts to promote a political settlement and improved security in Somalia while holding out the carrot of a U.N. peacekeeping force. The British-sponsored resolution was changed at the last minute at South Africa's insistence to strengthen the language on a future U.N. peacekeeping force. "I am so excited! I'm over the moon!," South Africa's jubilant U.N. Ambassador Dumisani Kumalo told reporters afterward.

"For the first time, it's a signal that if the political conditions are right, if the security situation on the ground is right, this council will do something," Kumalo said. "It sends a signal to the Somali people that we've heard their cries. It sends a signal that this council is serious."

A massive U.N. relief operation was launched for thousands of Somalis left starving because of fighting after Siad Barre's ouster in 1991. But in 1993, clan militia fighters shot down two U.S. Black Hawk helicopters and killed 18 U.S. servicemen in fighting. After that, the U.S. withdrew its troops and the U.N. scaled back its peacekeeping operation, eventually abandoning it in 1995.

Britain's U.N. Ambassador John Sawers, the current council president, called the resolution "a step forward," saying it encourages the transfer of the U.N. political office from Nairobi to Somalia and backs U.N.-supported efforts to broaden the political base of the transitional government. But he cautioned against immediate results.

"The United Nations can't bring peace to Somalia overnight. It's a long, hard road to peace in a country that has not known effective government for 17 years," Sawers told reporters. "Many things can go wrong, but the Security Council is backing those efforts, not just rhetorically but in practical terms as well."

In the meantime, the resolution calls on all countries to provide money, personnel and equipment to fully deploy the AU force now on the ground in Somalia, known as AMISOM. It is authorized to have 8,000 troops but currently only has 2,600 soldiers from Uganda and Burundi.

In a report to the Security Council in March, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon raised the possibility of the AU force being replaced by an 8,000-strong multinational force, which could pave the way for the withdrawal of Ethiopian troops who helped Somalia rout the Islamic movement in January 2007. The multinational force could then be replaced by a U.N. peacekeeping force of up to 27,000 soldiers and 1,500 police, he suggested. The resolution calls on the secretary-general to keep planning for the possible deployment of a U.N. peacekeeping force, including "possible additional scenarios."

On other issues, the council condemned all human rights violations in Somalia. It called on states and regional organizations — coordinating with each other and the secretary-general, and with the agreement of Somalia's transitional government — "to take action to protect shipping involved with the transportation and delivery of humanitarian aid to Somalia and U.N.-authorized activities."

It asked Ban and AMISOM to support the effort, and reiterated the council's support for the contribution of some countries to protect U.N. World Food Program maritime convoys. France has provided naval vessels to escort ships carrying WFP humanitarian aid to Mogadishu, the Somali capital.

The United States and France have introduced a separate U.N. resolution that would allow countries to chase and arrest pirates off Somalia's coast, responding to recent attacks including on French, Spanish and Japanese vessels. Sawers expressed hope that the piracy resolution will be adopted later this month.

The resolution also recalled the council's intention "to take measures against those who seek to prevent or block a peaceful political process," undermine stability, threaten transitional government institutions or the AU force, and violate a U.N. arms embargo. It asked for recommendations within 60 days on targeted measures against such individuals or entities.

More Information on the UN Security Council
More Information on Somalia
More Information on Peacekeeping
More Information on Peacekeeping Tables and Charts


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