A top Somali Islamist leader warned the U.N. Security Council on Tuesday that authorizing African peacekeepers to intervene in the Somali conflict would start an all-out war in the Horn of Africa. VOA Correspondent Alisha Ryu has this report from our East Africa Bureau in Nairobi.
Speaking to several thousand people at a rally in the Somali capital Mogadishu, the leader of the executive wing of the Islamic Courts Union denounced the draft Security Council resolution on Somalia, expected to be unveiled by the United States this week in New York.
Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed said the resolution, if adopted, would send thousands of armed troops from neighboring countries into Somalia, igniting a major regional conflict.
"We are telling the international community that we view this draft resolution as nothing more than an effort to help Ethiopia take over our country," he said. ""If the United Nations backs this resolution, I promise you that there will be an all-out war in the Horn of Africa."
The chief of security for the Islamist movement, Sheikh Yusuf Mohamed Siad Inda'ade went further, vowing to summon Muslim fighters from around the world to resist the peacekeeping mission.
Ethiopia's fiercely anti-Islamist Prime Minister Meles Zenawi is believed to have already sent thousands of combat troops into Somalia to protect Somalia's secular-but-powerless interim government, headquartered in the town of Baidoa.
Ethiopia's arch rival in the region, Eritrea, is accused of sending troops and weapons to the Islamists.
A recent U.N. report accused eight other countries from across the Middle East and Africa of providing arms to their proxies in Somalia, fueling fears that if a war did break out there, it would rival the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The draft resolution, being prepared in consultation with Britain, calls for an eight thousand-strong peacekeeping force, put together by the African Union and the seven-member regional Inter-Governmental Authority on Development, known as IGAD.
As members of IGAD, Ethiopia, Uganda, and possibly Kenya would contribute troops. Their objectives are to strengthen Somalia's shaky interim government and to keep the Islamists, who seized Mogadishu just five months ago and already control most of southern and central Somalia, from further expanding their power.
The proposed resolution also calls for the easing of a 1992 U.N. arms embargo to enable the peacekeepers and Somalia's interim government forces to legally obtain weapons.
Washington views the draft resolution, which has the backing of African members of the Security Council, as a way to stabilize Somalia and to check the advance of the Islamists, whose leadership is believed to have deep ties to militant anti-Western terrorist groups.
But critics say authorizing the deployment of a regional intervention force, especially one which includes Ethiopian troops, may actually increase the likelihood of war.
Matt Bryden, a Nairobi-based expert on Somalia, says Sheikh Ahmed's dire warning should not come as a surprise.
"The courts have warned repeatedly that they would wage jihad against any foreign troops on Somali soil. I think this has been misunderstood by some international actors, who feel that because there have been Ethiopian troops on the ground in Somalia and the courts have not waged an all-out war, that somehow this was a bluff. I think this is a mistake," said Bryden. "Really, it has been a question of the courts not being ready for an all-out assault and also a question of the weather, heavy rains in recent weeks. But the weather is drying up. Both sides are fully mobilized and we should take this warning from Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed very seriously."
The authors of the recent U.N. report on Somalia also recommended against the deployment of a peacekeeping force, saying it would only exacerbate regional tensions and heighten terrorist activities.