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UN Signals 'No' to AU Request for Somalia Peacekeepers

The United Nations Security Council has told the African Union it will not take over the AU peacekeeping mission in Somalia under current conditions. But African officials remain hopeful the world body will change its mind.

Somalia and Sudan were at the top of the agenda Saturday during a nearly three hour closed door meeting between the UN Security Council and the AU Peace and Security Council.

African leaders have long called on the UN body to take over peacekeeping chores in Somalia from the AU force AMISOM, staffed by just over 4,000 Burundian and Ugandan troops. But Secretary General Ban Ki-moon recently advised against such a takeover, saying conditions are not right.

Britain's U.N. Ambassador John Sawers, leader of a Security Council delegation beginning an eight-day African tour, said the Council is likely to follow the secretary-general's advice.

"I think it's fair to say the consensus within the council is to continue our support for African Union peacekeeping mission and strengthen that support, and the question of a blue-helmeted UN peacekeeping mission remains on table, remains something we would like to be able to move forward with once the conditions exist,” said Sawers. “But the secretary-general and the analysis of most members of the Council is that the conditions for that at present don't exist," he noted.

African Union officials remained undaunted, expressing hope they could persuade Security Council ambassadors to change their minds before a decision on the issue is due in the next few weeks. Despite reports of heavy fighting in Mogadishu that left more than 100 people dead in recent days, AU Peace and Security Commissioner Ramtane Lamamra said he is not disappointed by the apparent rejection.

"No not at all. On the blue-helmeting. It's coming. We are definitely working in that direction,” he said. “We are building up AMISOM and the political environment is also evolving positively and therefore there will be no reason whatsoever in the foreseeable future for the UN Security Council not to accede to our request to transform AMISOM into a full-fledged peacekeeping operation," he added.

Lamamra said he is encouraged by reports from Mogadishu that Somali government troops, backed by AMISOM, have beaten back an assault on the presidential palace in recent days by hardline insurgents and foreign troops.

"It is precarious, but it is not something that is particularly alarming. Of course AMISOM is very much mobilized. The government forces have succeeded to repulse last weekend's attack and therefore we are very much on top of the situation," he said.

A post-meeting communiqué said the two security bodies reviewed their common interest in their joint peacekeeping mission in Darfur, which is still at less than two-thirds of its authorized strength of 26,000.

The next stops on the Security Council tour will be in Africa's Great Lakes region, first in Rwanda, then the Democratic Republic of Congo, where the blue-helmeted MONUC peacekeeping mission has been sharply criticized for failing to curb violence and protect civilians.

The eight-day mission will end in Liberia, a relative success story in UN peacekeeping. The Council is expected to reaffirm support for President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, but diplomats said it is unlikely the visit will lead to any significant reduction in the 13,000-strong UN force there.