Somali leaders meeting in Saudi Arabia Sunday say they want Arab troops to play a major role in a peacekeeping force in their country. The meeting in Riyadh between members of the Transitional Federal Government and various factions follows a recent reconciliation conference in Mogadishu.

For a look at greater Arab involvement in the Somali peace process, VOA English to Africa Service reporter Joe De Capua spoke with Professor David Shinn of George Washington University. Shinn, a former US ambassador to Ethiopia, favors the Arab troop proposal.

?On the face of it, it?s a sound idea in that it is clear that the African Union is not capable of putting together a significant peacekeeping force to go into Mogadishu. I have said for some time that it really has to be a United Nations peacekeeping force. And the idea of focusing on using African and Arab troops is, I think, a very sound one. I think it would be very useful, especially, to get Arab troops involved in this. This is also a way in which it would be possible for the Ethiopians to leave Somalia. The problem is that it still doesn?t resolve the basic issue and that is serious power sharing between the Transitional Federal Government on the one hand and the moderate opponents?on the other, Most of whom have met recently in Eritrea,? he says.

Asked why he would favor Arab participation in a peacekeeping force, Shinn says, ?I think that the Arab troops would be able to empathize relatively well with Somalis. Somalia is a member of the Arab League. It?s also a member of the African Union. The Arab forces would of course speak Arabic and a surprising number of Somalis speak Arabic. I think that culturally, the Arab countries are in some ways better attuned to Somali culture than are some of the African countries. They?re all Muslims.?

Recently, Somali opposition leaders and Islamists met in Asmara, Eritrea, and said they plan to retake control of the country and drive out Ethiopian forces. Shinn says they would be opposed to any peacekeeping force, even one that included Arab troops.

?I think they would oppose the idea of any troops coming in because I think they have decided that they want to seize power and they don?t want anyone there to stop them. At the moment, it?s the Ethiopian forces who are preventing that. And if you had a peacekeeping force in there under the United Nations, they would play the role of trying to mediate or resolve problems between the competing sides rather than just hand power over to them,? he says.