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UN Security Council Takes Step Toward Peacekeeping Force in Somalia

The U.N. Security Council has unanimously adopted a resolution paving the way for establishing a U.N. peacekeeping force in Somalia, but delayed any decision for six months so it can assess the situation in the country.

Resolution 1863 renews for another six months the mandate of the 2,000 troops from the African Union's AMISOM force and establishes the Security Council's intention to replace them with a U.N. peacekeeping operation. The council says it will decide by June 1 of this year.

Council members stressed that political, security and other factors in Somalia must improve before they will authorize peacekeepers to deploy there, putting the burden squarely on the Somalis to implement the Djibouti Peace Agreement and end the fighting. French Ambassador Jean-Maurice Ripert echoed this point.

"The approach in 1863 sends a strong political signal and a signal to act specifically in Somalia itself," he said. "The resolution sends a new realistic political signal that the Security Council is ready, as regards principle, to create a peacekeeping operation once the necessary conditions have been met. The resolution is very clear on this point."

The resolution also calls on U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to submit a report to the council by mid-April on a possible peacekeeping operation. Previously, the U.N. chief has said he has spoken to dozens of countries about possible troop contributions, but their responses have all been lukewarm or negative.

The text also seeks to strengthen the small African Union force, known as AMISOM, by providing additional logistical support through U.N. funding.

Somalia's ambassador Elmi Duale welcomed the resolution and urged the council to consider a peacekeeping force even if all elements are not in place, saying it could take "another 10 years" for that to happen.

"And if we wait until everything is in place, I believe we will miss the boat, and Somalia will be forever missed in the international arena, the international community," he said.

The U.S. drafted text is the last official action in the Security Council by the outgoing Bush administration.

In farewell remarks, U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad said he believes the United States needs the United Nations and the United Nations needs an active United States. On Tuesday, he is expected to be replaced by U.S. Ambassador-designate Susan Rice.