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AU Commission Chief Wants Peacekeepers to Stay in Somalia


African Union Commission Chairman Jean Ping says he cannot envision AU peacekeepers abandoning Somalia, even after Ethiopian troops withdraw. Ping is spearheading a diplomatic offensive to secure additional funding and troops to provide Somalia a credible international stabilization force.

He called for the deployment of more AU troops in order to stabilize Somalia after Ethiopia pulls its forces out of its lawless Horn of Africa neighbor in a few weeks. A day after returning from a visit to Arab capitals for talks on Somalia, Ping expressed optimism about finding sufficient international funding and African troops to reinforce the badly understaffed AU force in Somalia.

"We are asking our own member states to increase their participation, to send more troops in Somalia, not only Uganda and Burundi but more Nigerians and others. Simultaneously, we are asking the U.N. Security Council, who has the primary responsibility for peace and security in the world, to take their responsibility," he said.

Ping's comments come a day after Ethiopia's prime minister said African Union troops would want to leave Somalia as Ethiopia withdraws, and that he had agreed his troops would provide security as the AU peacekeepers withdraw.

But Ping told reporters an AU withdrawal is out of the question.

"Do you think that it is something which we can accept, not only the African Union and the African governments but the rest of the world? Because you know the world is targeted by the problem of piracy," he said. "All the world. It is a threat to world peace, not only world peace."

Ping said a pullout of the 3,400-strong peacekeeping mission would only be considered in the worst-case scenario, in which the United Nations turns its back on Somalia's pleas for help, and efforts by Somali political leaders to enact a power-sharing agreement end in collapse.

"I think that this is the scenario, which is called the 'catastrophic scenario', which we expect this scenario will not happen," he said.

To underscore the urgency of Somalia's crisis, the U.N. Security Council is holding an extraordinary foreign-minister level meeting on Somalia next week. The meeting is ostensibly to discuss preventing piracy off the strategic Somali coast. But Chairman Ping says AU Peace and Security Commissioner Ramtanee Lamamra intends to argue that the problems on land and sea are closely linked.

"Everybody is preoccupied by the subject of piracy, and preparing a reaction against piracy. But we said the root cause of that is on land, the disorder in Somalia, so we've sent the commissioner there to the Security Council to request it formally and insist on the necessity of having troops there," he said.

In another hopeful sign, the parliament of Somalia's U.N.-backed Transitional Federal Government has scheduled a meeting Saturday in the provisional capital, Baidoa. It would be the legislature's first meeting in four months.

The session is aimed at adopting a power-sharing deal with a moderate opposition faction. The agreement signed in October in Djibouti calls for create a unity government followed by presidential elections next month.

Somalia has been without a functioning government since 1991.

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