- Associated Press - Thursday, October 21, 2010

UNITED NATIONS | The African Union sought U.N. approval Thursday for a naval and air blockade of Somalia plus more troops and aid to fend off piracy and terrorism in the struggling Horn of Africa nation.

The AU’s commissioner for peace and security, Ramtane Lamamra, urged the U.N. Security Council to authorize a blockade while seeking far more international aid and a contingent of 20,000 AU-led troops, up from the current authorization of 8,000.

He also asked the council to approve hiring up to 1,680 police. The AU peacekeeping force, operating under the U.N. mandate, has about 6,000 troops.

With Somalia lacking a fully functioning government since 1991, Mr. Lamamra called for a major escalation of troops and other resources to deter the pirates operating off the country’s coast and the al Qaeda-linked al Shabab Islamist rebels who control much of Somalia.

Specifically, Mr. Lamamra requested U.N. authorization for “a naval blockade and a no-fly zone over Somalia to prevent the entry of foreign fighters into Somalia, as well as flights carrying shipments of weapons and ammunition to armed groups inside Somalia.”

Somali Foreign Minister Yusuf Hassan Ibrahim told the council his government fully supports the AU’s strategy.

“The history of Somalia during the past two decades is not just doom and gloom,” he said.

In some places, he said, there still is peace, and local businesses and extended families have worked to “set up clinics, electricity, schools, telephones and running water despite the lack of central government.”

The council then met for several hours behind closed doors. Afterward, Uganda’s U.N. Ambassador Ruhakana Rugunda, the current council president, told reporters the council considers the AU’s request for a blockade to be “legitimate” but the council’s members would need to study it further.

Mr. Lamamra also sought the 15-nation council’s help in tightening international sanctions against Somalia and in removing some of the underlying conditions that have led to a boom in piracy by doing something to tackle the illegal fishing and dumping of toxic substances and waste off the coast.