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Peace force proposed for Somalia after Qaeda threats

india Updated: Jan 06, 2007 11:37 IST
Reuters
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Western and African diplomats called on Friday for the urgent deployment of peacekeepers in Somalia as Al-Qaeda's deputy leader urged defeated Islamists to launch an Iraq-style insurgency against Ethiopian forces there.

The Islamists took control of much of southern Somalia in June but have now been forced into hiding after being routed from their strongholds by Ethiopian military defending Somalia's interim government in two weeks of full-scale warfare.

They have vowed to fight on, melting into the hills in Somalia's remote southern tip where Ethiopian and government forces are hunting hundreds of their fighters.

Nairobi has sent troops to seal its frontier, blocking entry to Somali refugees fleeing the conflict.

Many fear the Islamists, who fled a last stronghold on New Year's Day, will mount a holy war against largely Christian Ethiopia.

"You must ambush, mine, raid and (carry out) martyrdom campaigns so that you can wipe them out," Ayman al-Zawahri, deputy to Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, said in his message.

"As happened in Iraq and Afghanistan, when the world's strongest power was defeated by the campaigns of the mujahideen, troops going to heaven, so its slaves shall be defeated on the Muslim lands of Somalia," he said.

Al-Zawahri's message, posted on a website used by militant Islamist groups, is likely to reinforce Washington's belief that the Somalia Islamic Courts Council is linked to and even run by an Al-Qaeda cell, a charge the Islamists have denied.

In Nairobi, the International Contact Group on Somalia, which includes the United States, European and African nations, pushed for a fast deployment of foreign peacekeepers approved by the United Nations before the war.

The United States Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Jendayi Frazer said the security vacuum had to be filled, but played down the significance of the Al-Qaeda tape. "I think a lot of bold statements were made by extremists in the Courts, that they were going to kill Somalis, that they were going to stand and fight ... and they just ran," she said.

A general seen as a contender to lead the Pentagon's Africa operations said he did not expect US troops to go to Somalia.

"Situations change but I do not see it now, and there's nothing that I've heard that implies that at all," said General William Ward, deputy commander of U.S. European Command and a former brigade commander in Somalia.

The United States said however that it would give $24 million to Somalia, both for development and to support the peacekeeping force, in addition to $16 million announced earlier in the week.

"You want to make sure that the Transitional Federal Government has an opportunity to get its legs under it and really start to become a more robust entity and start reaching out to the political parties," State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said

Ethiopia Prime Minister Meles Zenawi said his troops would leave within two weeks. Analysts fear the interim Somali government will flounder without Ethiopian protection.

The government wants a peacekeeping force to move in fast.

Uganda says it is ready to send troops as soon as its parliament approves. A disastrous attempt by US forces to pacify Somalia in the early 1990s ended with a hasty withdrawal.

"Our peacekeeping is different from these Western countries," Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni said.

"The Western countries do not listen carefully. They are full of themselves, they think they know everything. That's why they make mistakes."

Within hours of the Islamists leaving Mogadishu, militiamen loyal to warlords ousted in June reappeared at checkpoints in the city where they used to rob and terrorise civilians.

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