Islamist leaders in Mogadishu, Somalia have angrily denounced the U.N. endorsement of an African peacekeeping force for the troubled country, vowing to resist the deployment at all costs. But rival interim government leaders say regional military support is the only way to keep Somalia and the region from descending into war. VOA Correspondent Alisha Ryu has the story from our East Africa Bureau in Nairobi.
The U.N. Security Council resolution authorizes African peacekeepers to protect Somalia's beleaguered interim government in the town of Baidoa and to train government forces. But it does not allow border states, such as Ethiopia and Kenya, to contribute troops.
The resolution also urges the resumption of dialogue between government officials and rival Islamists to create a unity government.
But the foreign affairs official for the Somali Islamic Courts Union, Ibrahim Adow, tells VOA his movement views the peacekeeping plans as nothing more than a seal of approval for Ethiopia to attack Somalia.
"Deploying forces is seen as a program of Ethiopia, supported by the United States and this is opposed by the majority of the Somali people," he said.
"Therefore, we have to state very clearly, this is seen as invading forces and Somalis have no other option but to defend themselves from these invading forces," he continued.
Adow, who is a U.S. citizen and considered a moderate member of the courts, did not repeat earlier threats made by militant Islamist members to summon Muslim fighters to resist the deployment.
But he warned that chaos and violence could come to the region, if the Islamist movement meets resistance in the form of peacekeepers.
Leaders of the rival interim government praised the U.N. Security Council for approving the resolution and thanked its main backer, the United States, for a plan they described as the only route to achieving peace and stability in a country that has been without a central government for more than 15 years.
During a visit to Nairobi, Interim Government Prime Minister Ali Mohamed Gedi issued a warning of his own to Islamist leaders, some of whom the Somali government, Ethiopia, and the United States believe have strong ties to terrorist groups.
"This resolution is a tool to be properly used to prevent any further expansion or terrorist actions," he said.
"We have no fear of the so-called Islamic Courts or their allies. Any hindrance, any attempt to sabotage the peace process and the stabilization of Somalia will not be tolerated," he added.
Gedi's secular government was formed two years ago, but it has not had enough power to move from the town of Baidoa, about 250 kilometers northwest of the capital, Mogadishu.
The government has faced ever-increasing marginalization by the Islamists, who took over the capital Mogadishu six months ago and have since installed strict clerical rule in large areas of southern and central Somalia.
Alarmed by the rise of the Islamists, neighboring Ethiopia is believed to have sent thousands of troops to support the government. Ethiopia's rival in the Horn, Eritrea, is also believed to have sent troops and weapons in support of the Islamists, raising the specter of a regional war.
In a recent U.N. report, both countries were named as the biggest violators of a widely-ignored, 14-year-old U.N. arms embargo.
The just-passed U.N. resolution officially eases that embargo, so the peacekeepers can legally bring in weapons to train and equip local security forces.