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Africa | Somalia

Protests as African mission arrives Somalia

afrol News, 14 February - A delayed mission by the African Union (AU) was met with demonstrations as it today arrived in Somalia's capital, Mogadishu. Thousands of Somalis protested the inclusion of troops from Ethiopia and Djibouti in a planned peace-building operation in Somalia. The AU mission itself had been delayed due to threats.

The AU and Somalia's government - which is still exiled in Kenya - are behind the initiative to send a peace-building mission to create a safer environment in the country. The 7,500 troops are to be sent from the Horn of Africa inter-governmental organisation IGAD, which organised the Somali peace talks in Kenya. IGAD includes all of Somalia's neighbours.

The AU mission to Mogadishu is to prepare a safe environment for the coming IGAD peace-building mission. The mission includes military experts from the AU, the Arab League and IGAD and is to stay in Somalia more than one week. Its arrival was originally planned for this weekend, but a set of threats from Mogadishu militias and demonstrators saw the mission delayed.

The establishment of an IGAD peace-building operation is already faced with several hindrances in Somalia. Somalia's transitional President Abdullahi Yusuf had originally asked for a combined AU-Arab League operation to safeguard the reestablishment of a working government in Mogadishu. AU capacity strains had led to an offer by IGAD to send troops. IGAD members Kenya, Uganda, Djibouti, Ethiopia and Sudan have stated their interest.

Demonstrations in Mogadishu on Friday were the first serious warning that the IGAD troops may face massive resistance in Somalia. The federation of Islamic groups in Somalia held a demonstration calling for "holy war" if non-Muslim African troops were deployed in the country.

Today's demonstrations in the Somali capital, welcoming the AU mission, were against the deployment of troops from Ethiopia and Djibouti, two countries that have been deeply involved in the warfare in Somalia. Djiboutians are themselves ethnic Somalis and are suspected of having common interests with the strong clans of the north.

The participation of Ethiopia is even more suspicious for most Somalis. Ethiopia and Somalia fought a bitter war over Ethiopia's Ogaden region in the 1970s, as part of Mogadishu's scheme to unite all territories of ethnic Somalis. Ethiopia later on always has supported one or several of Somalia's warring fractions, including that of transitional President Yusuf.

Also among the transitional Somali leadership in Kenya, the deployment of UGAD troops is a controversial matter. President Yusuf has invited and warmly welcomed the planned deployment and also spoken in favour of Ethiopian troops. The transitional parliament however yet has to vote over such an operation and many of the warlords represented there are fiercely opposed to an IGAD commitment.

The Brussels-based think-tank International Crisis Group (ICG) only last week warned against an IGAD peace-building mission. "By forcing the issue at this critical stage, IGAD's members risk crossing the 'Mogadishu Line' where peacekeepers become party to a conflict - as they did during the US-led intervention of the early 1990s," said Matt Bryden of the ICG.

The AU mission in Mogadishu however is not expecting to listen to public opinion. Its mandate is preparing for the deployment of IGAD troops in the city that still is under control of rivalling warlords and militias. The killing of BBC journalist Kate Peyton in Mogadishu last week is widely seen as a warning to foreigners, including the AU mission.

For the majority of the still-exiled Somali government, the deployment of foreign peace-builders is however a necessity to be able to relocate to Mogadishu. Transitional President Yusuf recently has been under strong pressure from his hosts, Kenya and IGAD, to finally leave Nairobi and set up government institutions in Somalia.

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