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African leaders discuss new mandate for Somali force

By Christian Lowe
Saturday, July 04, 2009

SIRTE, Libya (Reuters) - African leaders will consider a resolution Friday to give African Union peacekeepers in Somalia a mandate to do more than just defend themselves from attacks by hardline rebels.

At the moment, the 4,300 troops from Uganda and Burundi in the AMISOM are largely confined to their bases and protect key sites such as the presidential palace, airport and seaport.

"It is suggested that the rules of engagement will have to be revisited so there that will be more flexibility for AMISOM to react to developments on the ground," African Union Peace and Security Commissioner Ramtane Lamamra told reporters.

He said African heads of state would consider the draft resolution Friday afternoon.

The Somali government has been pushing for AMISOM to have a mandate which allows them to help government forces on the ground in their fight against insurgents with links to al Qaeda.

Western nations and Somalia's neighbors worry that if the rebels succeed in toppling the government, the Horn of Africa nation will become a safe haven for al Qaeda training camps and the militants will destabilize the region.

At least 16 people were killed and 30 wounded, according to hospital officials, in a third day of heavy fighting in the north of the capital Mogadishu, taking the death toll since Wednesday to more than 50.

Al Shabaab warned Friday the situation would only get worse if African leaders beefed up the AMISOM mandate.

"If the mandate of African peacekeepers in Somalia now changes into a peace-making mission it will only cause fighting to continue and we shall keep on attacking AMISOM and, God willing, we shall defeat them," spokesman Sheikh Ali Mohamud Raage said in a statement.

The African Union plan has always been to send 8,000 soldiers but pledges of more troops for the AMISOM force have so far failed to result in more boots on the ground.

But with fears growing that the government might fall, African and Western nations are looking at several options to bolster the force with more troops and a tougher mandate.

Somali President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed met the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, Johnnie Carson, on Friday at the summit in Libya.

"Carson again confirmed to President Sharif that full U.S. support is ready -- training security forces, logistical and financial assistance -- to stop these extremists taking over Somalia and having a base to destabilize the world," an official with the Somali president told Reuters.

(Additional reporting by Ibrahim Mohamed in Mogadish and Abdiaziz Hassan in Nairobi; writing by David Clarke).

Source: Reuters, July 03, 2009


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