Africa's top peace and security official is to begin urgent talks on Thursday at the United Nations in an attempt to save Somalia's fragile U.N.-backed administration from collapse. The pending withdrawal of Ethiopian troops from Somalia is focusing the attention of the international community and Somalia's fractious political leadership on avoiding a descent into chaos.
African Union Peace and Security Commissioner Ramtane Lamamra is on a mission to try to persuade the U.N. Security Council to urgently dispatch a peacekeeping mission to Somalia.
The world body withdrew a previous mission in 1995, and Security Council ambassadors have since declined several requests to return the peacekeepers, saying there is no peace to keep in the lawless Horn of Africa nation.
As Lamamra left for New York, AU Commission Chairman Jean Ping urged the world body not to fail the people of Somalia again. He issued a statement calling for the international community to muster the necessary political will to address the conflict that has been tearing Somalia apart for two decades.
The urgent appeal was prompted by Ethiopia's decision to pull out its troops, which have propped up Somalia's U.N.-backed transitional government for the past 24 months.
The Ethiopians drove out the Islamic Courts Union from the Somali capital, Mogadishu when they first arrived. But they have since become bogged down in an increasingly violent war with the Islamists, creating a humanitarian catastrophe.
AU spokesman El Ghassim Wane said Lamamra will ask the Security Council to take over and strengthen the badly undermanned AU peacekeeping mission.
"He hopes to impress upon all concerned how serious the situation is, and reiterate the appeal made by the African Union to the U.N. Security Council to act swiftly and to authorize the deployment of a U.N. operation. He will also update them on the needs of the AU, the needs of AMISOM [i.e., the African Union Mission to Somalia], so we can see how to mobilize further support for the mission," he said.
The leaders of Somalia's transitional government are coming under intense pressure to put aside factional feuding and approve a power-sharing deal signed in October with the moderate opposition Alliance for the Re-liberation of Somalia.
In a hopeful sign, ARS leader Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed returned to Mogadishu, two years after being forced out by the transitional government. News agencies said members of the government were on hand to greet him.
Former Somali ambassador to Ethiopia Abdi Kareem Farah said members of the transitional parliament, many of whom have been living in Nairobi for months, are returning to the provisional capital, Baidoa, for a crucial session on Saturday.
"There are 170 MPs in Baidoa, which is enough to have decisions. Also the remaining parliamentarians, who are in Nairobi, are on their way tomorrow morning to Baidoa. So it will be over 200 parliamentarians in Baidoa by Saturday. So there will be a full session of parliament for the first time in four months. We did not have a cabinet for the last four months due to the disagreement between the prime minister and the president. I hope parliament will take responsibility to put aside differences," he said.
Farah said the hoped-for formation of a unity government including the opposition faction could provide the stability needed to persuade the United Nations to commit peacekeeping troops to replace the departing Ethiopians. Farah said that if the Security Council fails to act now, it will have to act a year or two from now, when the situation is even worse.
Meanwhile, The Associated Press reported that Ethiopian troops were pouring into Somalia in what appears to be a final military offensive before their withdrawal. The AP quoted a Somali military spokesman as saying the Ethiopians were helping to rid the country of the militant Islamist al-Shabab.
Al-Shabab has steadily been gaining control over large parts of Somalia in recent weeks. In apparent anticipation of a complete takeover when Ethiopia withdraws, the Shabab was reported to have declared an Islamic state in a southern region of the country this week.