U.N. Authorizes Force to Guard Somalia Government
MIKE PESCA, host:
From NPR News, it's DAY TO DAY.
The fragile government in Somalia has been clashing violently with its Islamist foes. So now the United Nations has decided to send in peacekeepers drawn from Somalia's neighbors. The best-case scenario is at least a pause in the bloodshed. But a lot of experts see another scenario: fueling the conflict and providing a rallying point for the Islamist militias.
NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.
MICHELE KELEMEN: The U.S.-backed resolution, approved unanimously yesterday, paves the way for about two battalions of African troops to go to Somalia to protect and train the internationally recognized interim government, now holed up in the city of Baidoa. The resolution would also ease a U.N. arms embargo to allow the African peacekeepers to get equipped. Critics say adding more troops and weapons will only fuel the fire in Somalia, which already has drawn in neighboring states. But U.S. Ambassador John Bolton dismissed that argument.
Mr. JOHN BOLTON (United States Ambassador to the United Nations): The criticism, most typically leveled of the council, is that it does not act in time. This is an opportunity to have a regional peacekeeping force inserted into this area, and to try and prevent the situation from getting worse. So I don't, I think the choice of doing nothing is really not a choice at all.
KELEMEN: The Bush administration tried to overcome some initial opposition to the plan, saying that neighboring states won't be allowed to send troops. Only Uganda has offered forces so far. A recent U.N. monitoring group painted an alarming picture of the situation in Somalia, a country flooded with weapons. It said Ethiopia is backing the transitional government, while many others, including Eritrea, are sending arms and cash to the so-called Union of Islamic Courts.
U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Africa, Jendayi Frazer, told reporters recently, that the way out is for serious talks between the two sides. But that's unlikely, as long as the Islamist continue to be the dominant force in Somalia.
Ms. JENDAYI FRAZER (U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Africa): As long as the Union of Islamic Courts continues to believe that it could have a military victory, there will not be an engagement in serious dialogue. So you have to have some parity between two sides of the dialogue.
KELEMEN: The Security Council resolution calls on the Islamists to stop their military expansion and reject those with links to terrorism. Frazer said that al-Qaida is operating, as she put it, with great comfort in areas under the control of the Islamists.
One critic of U.S. policy, John Prendergast of the International Crisis Group, military options to counter al-Qaida expansionism in East Africa.
He said a small African force won't change the balance of power on the ground in Somalia and negotiations are the only way forward.
Mr. JOHN PRENDERGAST (International Crisis Group): The longer this conflict is left to fester, the more seedy and bad news characters are going to be attracted to the Somalia scene.
KELEMEN: The U.S. pulled out of Somalia over a decade ago, after Black Hawk Down, and has no embassy there. Prendergast complains that the U.S. has, as he put it, only one low-level Somalia watcher buried in the U.S. Embassy in Kenya.
Mr. PRENDERGAST: What we need to be doing is rolling up our sleeves and getting involved in state building, and that means peace process; that means conflict resolution. We're not engaged. We're not involved. We don't have a senior official out in the region working the issues, going to all the allies of these different actors, and working through for a common vision. Why is that the case? We can't afford one diplomat to go out and work this account? It's remarkable.
KELEMEN: State Department officials say the U.S. ambassador to Kenya is building up a stronger team of Somalia watchers, and the U.S. may tap a former ambassador or other high-level envoy to take on the challenge.
Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington.
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