Africa's top peace and security official has welcomed the resignation of Somalia's President Abdullahi Yusuf, saying it clears the way for actions that could prevent the country from descending into chaos as Ethiopian troops withdraw.
AU Peace and Security Commissioner Ramtane Lamamra calls President Yusuf's resignation a necessary act of self-sacrifice. In a telephone interview, Lamamra said the Somali leader had become an obstacle to efforts to bring stability to the lawless Horn of Africa nation.
"Yusuf may have come himself to the conclusion that his presence as head of state would not serve the cause of peace and reconciliation in Somalia and he may have felt he eventually became part of the problem rather than part of the solution, and in political life, individuals have to make sacrifice when it comes to the supreme interests of the country," said Lamamra.
President Yusuf's resignation comes days before Ethiopia withdraws the troops it sent to Somalia two years ago to prop up his United Nations-backed transitional government. The Ethiopian pullout leaves only a 3,400-strong African Union peacekeeping force, leading to fears that the increasingly weak government would collapse and be replaced by Islamic extremists.
But Security Commissioner Lamamra says the resignation provides an opening for several hopeful developments. On the domestic front, it clears the way for the creation of a broader-based government of national unity, as called for in an accord signed in Djibouti in October with moderate Islamists from the Alliance for the Re-liberation of Somalia, or ARS.
"I understand there are a lot of members of parliament who are willing to put in place the expanded parliament and the cabinet of national union that is provided for in the Djibouti political process, and therefore this resignation may open new horizons for the new configuration of the transitional institutions to be put in place with the inclusion of the ARS representatives and whoever would be representing other Somali stakeholders, including diaspora," he continued.
Lamamra says he also expects the United Nations Security Council to act within 48 hours to pledge what he calls 'a very concrete logistical package' that would strengthen the A peacekeeping force known as AMISOM. He tells VOA a vote of support from the Security Council would encourage greater African troop contributions, in the hope that the force would eventually become a blue-helmeted U.N. force.
"If by the end of this year, the end of this month, within the next 48 hours, we can receive a clear indication by the UN Security Council that there is clearly an enhanced international commitment to Somalia in the security field by giving AMISOM what it needs in terms of enhancing its own effectiveness on the ground, and a clear indication as well that the UN will be taking a larger role and responsibility of the security areas of our mission. I think that will help our effort to be successful," he said.
Lamamra declined to discuss the status of efforts to quickly get more AMISOM troops in place to fill the security vacuum being left by the departing Ethiopian troops. Ethiopia has set a firm end of the month deadline for ending its presence in Somalia, but officials in Addis Ababa have said it might extend that presence by a few days to ensure the safety of the AMISOM peacekeepers.
As the pullout deadline approaches, there have been reports of heightened tensions in the capital, Mogadishu and clashes among Islamic factions poised to take power if the transitional government collapses.
The government's deputy minister for reconciliation was reported assassinated Sunday in the provisional capital, Baidoa. VOA has also learned of an unsuccessful attempt last week on the life of the moderate ARS leader, Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed.
Members of President Yusuf's security force abruptly fled Mogadishu Monday, hours before he resigned. News reports say the 100-strong militia flew to Yusuf's stronghold in northern Somalia.