January 16, 2009 / 6:49 PM / in 10 years

UN council again delays decision on Somalia force

UNITED NATIONS, Jan 16 (Reuters) - The Security Council expressed its intent on Friday to set up a U.N. peacekeeping force in Somalia, holding back from a firm decision the Bush administration had sought but its successor may not endorse.

The plan, which African countries have long been calling for, was supported last month by outgoing U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. But U.N. officials and some council members say the situation in Somalia right now is too dangerous.

The proposed next U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, also voiced strong skepticism on Thursday over the plan and said the Obama administration, which takes office next Tuesday, would closely examine it.

In a resolution adopted unanimously by its 15 members, the council expressed “its intent to establish a U.N. peacekeeping operation in Somalia as a follow-on” to a small existing African Union force, known as AMISOM.

It said, however, that this should be subject to a further decision of the council by June 1. European diplomats said the situation was unsuitable now for a U.N. force and if it remained so by June 1 a decision would again be delayed.

Somalia has been mired in anarchy since a dictatorship was overthrown in 1991. Islamists control most of the south, feuding clan militias hold sway elsewhere, and 3,000 Ethiopian troops backing the weak government pulled out this week.

Diplomats said the resolution only passed because the United States backed away from its initial push for a firm commitment to a U.N. force.

The resolution said AMISOM would eventually be incorporated into any U.N. force. It urged the AU to increase it to the originally planned 8,000 troops and asked Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to set up a trust fund to provide financial support.

AMISOM currently consists of just 3,200 Ugandans and Burundians, who have been able to do little to stem the rampant factional violence in the Horn of Africa state.

“BLACK HAWK DOWN”

The resolution called on Ban to develop by April 15 a mandate for the proposed U.N. force, whose tasks, it said, should be to assist aid delivery, protect politicians and U.N. staff, monitor cease-fires and build up Somali security forces.

Previous involvement by outside powers in Somalia ended badly. Eighteen U.S. soldiers died and 73 were wounded in the “Battle of Mogadishu” in October 1993. The battle, which inspired the film “Black Hawk Down,” marked the beginning of the end for a U.S.-U.N. peacekeeping force that left in 1995.

U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad called the resolution “very positive” but conceded to reporters the ultimate decision on a U.N. force would be up to the incoming administration.

France’s Jean-Maurice Ripert hailed the delay. “To decide to establish a peacekeeping operation now, when the necessary political and security conditions are not there, would have sent the blue helmets to failure and constituted a false hope for the most traumatized population in Africa,” he said.

Somalia’s Ambassador Elmi Ahmed Duale called the resolution “the right step in the right direction for the time being” but warned against indefinite delay. (Editing by Xavier Briand)

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