The African Union's top security official has presented Somalia's leaders a four-point plan for creating stability in the war-ravaged country. From the Somali capital, Mogadishu, VOA's Peter Heinlein reports the plan's ultimate goal is to entice the United Nations to take over peacekeeping duties from beleaguered Ethiopian and African Union troops.
During a four-hour visit to Mogadishu Wednesday, AU Peace and Security Commissioner Said Djinnit said Somalia is becoming Africa's biggest security challenge. He described his stopover as a symbolic show of support for Prime Minister Nur Hassan Hussein, just days after the prime minister moved his government back to the embattled capital from the more secure city of Baidoa.
But as if to underscore the continuing tensions, suspected Islamic insurgents fired four mortar rounds within a few hundred meters of Mogadishu's airport runway while Djinnit's plane was on the ground. Several other rounds landed just outside the prime minister's residence shortly after Djinnit left.
The commissioner's visit also came days before an African Union summit, at which the issue of Somalia's security will be high on the agenda.
Djinnit said he outlined to Mr. Hussain a proposal to initiate a road map that would be developed by Somali leaders in partnership with the international community.
Its four components would include strengthening the fractured nation's political process through reconciliation, greater international involvement in peacekeeping operations, creating a safe environment for humanitarian aid deliveries, and building the capacity of federal government institutions to face the immense challenges ahead.
The commissioner expressed frustration at what he called the lack of international support for efforts to bring a stable peace to Somalia. He told reporters his eventual goal, and biggest concern, is persuading the U.N. Security Council to re-establish the peacekeeping mission it abandoned in the face of uncontrolled violence 13 years ago.
"It is the issue at the heart of our concerns," said Said Djinnit. "We believe Somalia has been abandoned for so long , and the Security Council remains the principal body in charge of the maintenance of international peace and security, and Somalia is becoming the biggest challenge for security in Africa. And therefore the Security Council cannot but assume its responsibility vis a vis Somalia."
Djinnit chided the Security Council for its recent statement saying it was "reiterating its commitment to considering the possibility of deploying" a Somalia peacekeeping operation.
"If you look to ideal situation where peace is prevailing before deploying a peacekeeping operation, you might not get that ideal situation," he said. "So we are therefore calling for flexibility on the part of the United Nations in considering the situation in Somalia and in deciding as early as possible on the deployment of the peacekeeping operation to come and take over from the African Union."
The African Union peacekeeping mission in Somalia, known as AMISOM, has an authorized strength of 8,000. But nearly a year after it was formed, less than one-quarter of the troops are in place. Officials say that is far too few to stop the raging violence in and around Mogadishu.
A larger contingent of Ethiopian army troops is backing Somali's military in its campaign against Islamic insurgents. The presence of Ethiopian soldiers, however, has become a rallying point for insurgents, fueling more violence.
Ethiopia's prime Minister Meles Zenawi has repeatedly said he wants those troops replaced by a strong international force. But with Somalia among the world's most violent and gun-infested countries, and the United Nations balking at sending a peacekeeping mission, Prime Minister Hussein told reporters it is premature to set a date when Ethiopean troops could withdraw.
"To set a time maybe today it's not so easy, but you can see the efforts of the African Union, you can see the efforts of AMISOM [African Mission in Somalia] from time to time increasing their troops, and this will definitely set a way for us to discuss when and how the Ethiopian troops will be reduced," said Hussein. "So what we will try to do is have a very well-elaborated exit strategy."
Somalia's parliament chose Prime Minister Hussein last November to replace his predecessor Ali Mohamed Gedi, who was forced out in a dispute with President Abdullahi Yusuf. A career public servant and former head of Somalia's Red Crescent Society, Hussein is widely seen as a neutral figure who might be able to bring unity to a country that has been considered virtually ungovernable since 1991, when former dictator Mohamed Siad Barre was ousted.