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Somalia Moves to Forefront on AU Summit Agenda

Somali government's recent declaration of a state of emergency has moved the country's security crisis to the top rank of items for consideration at this week's African Union summit. From AU headquarters in Addis Ababa our correspondent reports that summit leaders will consider issuing a call for direct military intervention.

Fast-moving events in Somalia are propelling the Horn of Africa to urgent status on the summit agenda. After his government declared an emergency last week, Deputy Prime Minister Sharif Hasan Sheikh Adan flew to Addis Ababa to plead with Ethiopian and AU leaders for enhanced military support.

Ethiopia pulled troops out of the besieged Somali capital, Mogadishu, earlier this year and is reluctant to return without a strong mandate from the international community.

The 5,000 strong African Union peacekeeping force AMISOM is overstretched. It also lacks the mandate that would allow peacekeepers to defend against an expected offensive by the radical rebel group al-Shabab, which is trying to impose strict Islamic law, or Sharia, in a country that practices a moderate brand of Islam.

Adan estimates that 2,000 foreign fighters are in Somalia to bolster al-Shabab.

The deputy prime minister said that Somali President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed will plead at the summit for urgent reinforcements and a more robust mandate for AMISOM, so it can confront the rebels head on.

"To change the mandate from peacekeeping to peacemaking, it has to be armed like a government, so they can defend themselves," said Adan.

Adan said that a summit vote of confidence would provide a desperately needed boost for Somalis who are concerned that their under equipped military is about to be overrun by a foreign force of hardline Islamic militants.

"They will also have moral support; the people will have a positive view on how the government is alive and is able to protect itself," he said. "We have people to protect us, but we need help from the international community to build."

AU Peace and Security Commissioner Ramtane Lamamra was quoted from the summit site as saying the continental body fully supports the Somali request for assistance. He told the PANA news agency that the heads of state will consider all possibilities, including a call for direct military intervention from friendly states in the region.

Both Kenya and Ethiopia are considering military intervention. Kenya's foreign minister has been quoted as saying his country's army is on the "highest alert ever" because of the tensions in Somalia.

In an acknowledgment of the severity of the crisis, the United States last week confirmed that it is sending arms to the Mogadishu government, and is stepping up the level of humanitarian aid. A State Department spokesman said the money would help "repel the onslaught of extremist forces intent on spoiling efforts to bring peace and stability to Somalia".