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AU Official Welcomes London Somali Conference, Capture of Baidoa

A soldier in the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) takes his position during fighting between Islamists and government forces in southern Mogadishu, (file photo).
A soldier in the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) takes his position during fighting between Islamists and government forces in southern Mogadishu, (file photo).

An official of the African Union [AU] has said the capture of a rebel stronghold, and the U.N. Security Council’s decision to increase troop levels, bolsters security ahead of the London Conference on Somalia Thursday.

El-Ghassim Wane said AU special envoy and former Ghanaian President Jerry Rawlings, and other senior officials, will represent the continental body at the London Conference.

The Security Council authorized the AU to increase its force in Somalia to 17,700 troops, an increase of nearly 6,000.

Wane welcomed the “timely” Security Council’s decision, which he said helps with efforts to stabilize Somalia after more than two decades of conflict.

“The increase extends the Security Council’s support package to the AU mission to Somalia and authorizes the inclusion of the reimbursement for force multipliers and enablers into a support package,” said Wane. “This is a very significant step. We welcome and are very grateful to members of the Security Council and the Secretary-General of the United Nations for the decision.”

The UN’s decision came after Ethiopian and Somali government troops captured Baidoa, a key stronghold of the Somali Islamist militant group al-Shabab. The town, located in southwestern Somalia, was home to the country's Transitional Federal Government until the al-Qaida-linked insurgent group captured it in 2009.

“The capture is timely on the eve of the London conference, which will provide an opportunity to further mobilize the international community in support of the peace and reconciliation process in Somalia,” said Wane. “We have been actively involved in the preparation of the London Conference and this will be an opportunity for the AU delegation to make as many contacts to further advance the peace and reconciliation agenda.”

The AU peacekeeping force, known as AMISOM, has provided military support to the Somali Transitional Federal Government.

Analysts say the presence of the troops prevented al-Shabab from overthrowing the internationally-backed Somali government.

Last year, AMISOM forced al-Shabab to pull out of the capital, Mogadishu, while Ethiopian troops drove it from the central town of Beledweyne.

“AMISOM plays a critical role on the ground because there can be no political process, if we don’t create an enabling security environment,” continued Wane. “This is the very purpose for which AMISOM was deployed to provide support to the Somali institutions and then help them stabilize the situation and enhance security. For the past few months, tremendous progress has been made.”

Wane said the AU is playing a key role in the London conference, which he said aims to, among other things, mobilize the international community to support efforts to stabilize Somalia.

Somalia has been without an effective national government since the fall of strongman Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991.