Tuesday, January 9, 2007

The Bush administration called yesterday for an international peacekeeping force in Somalia, welcoming a European Union proposal that the United Nations be in charge, but saying that other ideas are worth considering as well.

The administration also said Sunday’s U.S. air strike in southern Somalia, which targeted suspected al Qaeda terrorists, will not affect its diplomatic efforts to bring stability to the conflict-torn country in the Horn of Africa.

“You need to have a force in there that is robust enough to help work with the transitional federal institutions to provide the security environment, and the U.N. is one way to do that,” State Department spokesman Sean McCormack told reporters yesterday.

Javier Solana, the European Union foreign-policy chief, suggested on Monday that U.N. peacekeepers go into Somalia after the deployment of the first contingent of Africa Union troops.

“The force for now is a Ugandan force,” Mr. Solana said in New York after meeting with U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. “But it is likely that the United Nations will have to take some decisions on the follow-up.”

He said the African Union, which has deployed troops in Sudan’s Darfur region, could not handle another large operation.

“It certainly does have some attractive aspects to it,” Mr. McCormack said of Mr. Solana’s proposal, noting that it could be “a mechanism through which you can generate a robust force that can help provide some security in Somalia.”

But U.N. diplomats warned that the organization is already stretched too thin, with about 100,000 troops in 18 peacekeeping missions.

“We face an unprecedented demand for peacekeeping, as well as a range of growing demands for preventive diplomacy, good offices, peace-building and efforts in conflict management,” Mr. Ban told the U.N. Security Council on Monday.

In the early 1990s, after the overthrow of dictator Mohammed Siad Barre, the United States sent troops to Somalia as part of a U.N. relief operation for tens of thousands of civilians left starving because of fighting among Somalia’s clans. But the Americans soon became entangled in a military effort to quell a dangerous warlord in the capital, Mogadishu.

In 1993, Somali clan militiamen shot down two Black Hawk helicopters and killed 18 U.S. soldiers. The bodies of two of them were dragged through the streets of Mogadishu.

The country never truly stabilized, and in the past six months, Islamists ruled the capital. They were ousted by Ethiopian-led troops in the last days of 2006. Somali President Abdullahi Yusuf entered the city Monday for the first time since his election in 2004, protected by his soldiers and those from Ethiopia, whose leaders say they will withdraw as soon as possible.

“The Somali people have an opportunity here,” Mr. McCormack said. “There is a level of international focus on Somalia and its various issues. Now, it is up to the Somali people, the Somali leadership … to reach out and try to rally the leaders among the Somali political class … to that common cause of charting a better pathway for Somalia.”

• This article is based in part on wire service reports

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