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US Reaffirms Support for East African Force for Somalia


The United States said Thursday it continues to support a U.N. plan for an East African peacekeeping force for Somalia that would obviate the need for intervention by that country's neighbors. The U.N. plan, approved early this month, has stalled amid mounting violence in Somalia. VOA's David Gollust reports from the State Department.

The Bush administration has expressed understanding for the security concerns that prompted Ethiopia to intervene in Somalia.

But it says it still wants to see the conflict resolved through dialogue among the Somali parties facilitated by the East African force, excluding Somalia's immediate neighbors, approved by the U.N. Security Council December 6.

Efforts to implement the U.N. plan have bogged down amid the latest violence including Ethiopia's large-scale intervention.

However in a talk with reporters, State Department Deputy Spokesman Tom Casey said implementation of Security Council resolution 1725 remains an administration priority.

He said U.S. diplomats are in touch with key parties including the African Union, the Arab League, Kenya, and with Uganda, which has offered to provide the core of the regional force.

He said if the peacekeeping mission, to be assembled by the East African regional grouping IGAD, is deployed, Ethiopia and other outside parties could "reassess" their involvement.

"The idea, very specifically, in setting up this force is that it would not involve the immediate neighbors of Somalia," Casey said. "I think at this point we want to get that [force] to be stood up and established. And that will give everyone else an opportunity to then reassess their positions. But part of the reasoning behind the creation of that force, and part of the reasoning for not including Ethiopia's neighbors in its composition, was to make sure that none of the different players involved inside Somalia itself would see this as something that might potentially provide a conflict of interest for any of the parties that would be involved in the force."

The East African "training and protection" mission was intended to shore up the military position of Somalia's Baidoa-based transitional authority in order to prompt renewed dialogue with the Islamic Courts militia movement, which prior to Ethiopia's intervention was on the offensive throughout the country.

Spokesman Casey said the U.S. view is that the force is still needed to help create conditions for a political settlement, and that the ultimate goal should be creation of a functioning government in Somalia based on dialogue among all the parties.

In a policy statement earlier this week, the State Department said Ethiopia had genuine security concerns with regard to Somalia and had intervened at the request of its legitimate governing authority, the transitional administration.

But it urged maximum restraint by Ethiopia, including protection of civilians and also said no Somali party should use the presence of "external actors" to avoid further dialogue.

U.S. officials have said that Ethiopia's regional rival Eritrea has been supporting the Islamic Courts and that several Middle Eastern and African countries have provided funding and other aid to Somali combatants.

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