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UN Prepares For Takeover Of Somalia Peacekeeping Mission


The United Nations is sending a mission to Somalia to prepare for the eventual takeover of a planned African Union peacekeeping force. VOA's correspondent at the U.N., Peter Heinlein reports.

U.N. Political Affairs chief Ibrahim Gambari says an African Union peace mission being recruited for Somalia is only a stopgap measure. Gambari told the Security Council Friday that A.U. leaders expect the world body to assume control of the operation within six months.

At a summit in Addis Ababa this week, the A.U. agreed to assemble an eight-thousand strong peacekeeping force for Somalia. But troop contributor countries have offered only four-thousand soldiers.

There are also questions about how to finance the operation, which is expected to cost about $34 million a month.

Gambari told a closed-door Council meeting he is dispatching a small team of experts to the region next week to study the feasibility of a U.N. takeover of the mission.

The current Security Council president, Slovakia's Ambassador Peter Burian said the latest deadly mortar attacks in Mogadishu underline the urgent need for a peacekeeping presence. "Members of the Security Council supported the rapid deployment of a U.N. technical assessment mission with a view to making recommendations to the Security Council on future security needs in Somalia," he said.

Burian emphasized the need for an urgent deployment to help create conditions for the withdrawal of foreign forces from Somalia.

Neighboring Ethiopia sent troops across the border in December to drive out an Islamic movement that had controlled much of Somalia for months. But the continued presence of foreign troops is deeply unpopular, and the Ethiopian force is withdrawing.

That pullout has raised the possibility of a power vacuum. Ethiopian authorities are urging the African Union to begin deploying replacement troops in the next two weeks.

A U.N. takeover of the Somalia mission would further expand the world body's growing peacekeeping role. The organization operates 18 peacekeeping missions worldwide, most of them in Africa, with a combined strength of 100,000 blue-helmeted troops.