The U.N. Security Council has authorized an African Union peacekeeping mission for Somalia. VOA's correspondent at the U.N. Peter Heinlein reports the world body could take control of the mission later this year.
A Council resolution adopted unanimously Tuesday authorizes the 53-nation African Union to establish a mission in Somalia as soon as possible. Diplomats say the force is expected to number about 8,000.
On a day when deadly mortar attacks and gunfire forced thousands to flee the capital, Mogadishu, the Security Council asked Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to immediately dispatch a technical assessment team to the region. The mission is to explore the feasibility of transferring control of the peacekeeping force to the United Nations control within six months.
Somalia has been without a functioning government since 1991, when warlords ousted dictator Mohammed Siad Barre.
The Horn of Africa nation enjoyed a brief moment of stability in December last year, when neighboring Ethiopia sent a heavily-armed force to help the transitional government recapture Mogadishu from Islamists who had controlled it since last June.
But the ongoing withdrawal of Ethiopian troops is creating a security vacuum, and the recent surge of violence is threatening to plunge the nation back into anarchy.
Britain sponsored Tuesday's Security Council resolution. The British U.N. Ambassador Emyr Jones-Parry called the peacekeeping force a small but significant step in restoring stability to the impoverished nation.
"For the first time in 15 years the Somalia people have a prospect of being governed by representative institutions that will provide them with security and stability," said Emyr Jones-Parry. "The international community for its part must lend its support to Somalia's transitional federal institutions to turn this opportunity into reality."
French diplomats have expressed doubt that a U.N. force could succeed in Somalia. France's U.N. Ambassador Jean-Marc de La Sabliere warned the Council Tuesday that it would be impossible to impose peace on a nation scarred by 15 years of violence and suffering. He says international peacekeeping efforts can do no more than create a climate for national reconciliation.
"It's impossible to impose peace on Somalia so it should be coming from Somalians themselves," said Jean-Marc de La Sabliere. "In voting this resolution, the Security Council have assisted the African Union and given a chance to the Somalian people to make the right choice."
Diplomats expressed hope that the resolution would encourage African Union countries to contribute to the peacekeeping force. An AU official says Uganda, Nigeria, Burundi, Malawi and Ghana have offered a total of 4,000 out of the 8,000 soldiers needed. Nigerian officials say their 850-strong contingent should be on the ground in Somalia by mid-April.