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African Union Urges 'Major International Endeavor' in Somalia


The new leadership of the African Union is trying to organize what is described as a "major international endeavor" to bring stability to Somalia. From AU headquarters in Addis Ababa, VOA correspondent Peter Heinlein reports the organization is also stepping up its peace and security activities in Sudan and Zimbabwe.

African Union Peace and Security Commissioner Ramtane Lamamra signaled Tuesday he will make Somalia a priority in his peacemaking efforts. In his first comments to reporters since taking over the post last week, the Algerian diplomat said he and Commission Chairperson Jean Ping are trying to organize a large international force to replace the understaffed AU mission called AMISOM, and give Somalia's struggling transitional government a chance to succeed.

"We will continue our work together with the U.N., the Arab League, the Organization of the Islamic Conference, in order to mobilize a very wide international support to a major international endeavor to help Somalis to save their country," Lamamra said.

Lamamra said he is also negotiating with major powers he did not identify who could provide the huge logistical support necessary for such a mission. He indirectly criticized the United Nations for its failure to send blue-helmeted peacekeepers to Somalia.

"This is a forgotten crisis. It is not fair for the international community to leave alone a country, a full member of the U.N., full member of the African Union, and not to consider that the fate of the people of Somalia is a very important responsibility of non-Somalis [to assist and to push forward the dynamics of peace and national reconciliation,]" he said.

The new African Union leadership also signaled its intent to increase its profile in other regions torn by political and military strife. Chairman Ping, who met last week with Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe, said the AU should take an active role in overseeing the country's run-off election.

"In the first round of elections we had 18 observers, we will increase them minimum more than 50 and maybe toward hundreds of observers there," he said. "We are also talking with various stakeholders there. So the run-off should be in a transparent fair calm atmosphere without violence, before during and after."

Ping also said he and Peace and Security Commissioner Lamamra would travel to Sudan, possibly as early as this weekend. The trip will take them to Khartoum, as well as to the western Darfur region and the southern Sudanese capital of Juba. Ping says he will be pushing for speedy deployment of the full AU-U.N. peacekeeping force in Darfur known as UNAMID.

"That's the purpose of our visit to see all stakeholders, including U.N. and the others, in order to work together to implement UNAMID, he said. "So it's our duty to combine efforts to bring peace and security in Sudan. This deployment of forces do not depend only on the African Union. It depends on also the U.N. and if you have seen some delays, you know yourself who is responsible for these delays."

Ping said he would also be talking to Sudanese leaders about the recent deterioration in relations with Chad. Sudan severed relations with its western neighbor Sunday, charging that Chad of supporting fighters that had staged a military assault on the capital the night before.

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