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Fragile peace fuels Somalia fears

Ethiopian troops are very visible on the Somalia's streets With the Islamic courts now overpowered by Somali and Ethiopian troops, the pressure is mounting to get African Union (AU) peacekeepers in to protect the fragile Somali transitional government.

Although Uganda and Nigeria have agreed to contribute soldiers, it could be many months before any deployment. A UN resolution in December approved an 8,000-strong peacekeeping force, but the African Union peace and security council would have to meet in an emergency session to agree technicalities, most pressingly the issue of just who would fund such a force.

Seven thousand of its troops are already serving in Sudan's Darfur region and questions remain about whether the AU would have enough troops available to deploy. The danger is that the continued presence of Ethiopian troops on Somali soil for some months to come could inflame tensions.

The Union of Islamic Courts may have restricted recreational pursuits - such as watching football - but they were credited with bringing a degree of stability not seen before to Somalia. Insurgency fears

In contrast, many Somalis see the presence of Ethiopian troops on their streets as the ultimate humiliation. Security experts warn that elements of the Shabbab - the radical youth wing of the Union of Islamic Courts - remain in Mogadishu and are planning guerrilla-style attacks.

As the Union of Islamic Courts claimed their withdrawal was simply a "tactical move" there are real fears of a protracted insurgency along the lines of that being fought in Iraq. The reluctance of Somalis to disarm as part of a weapons amnesty is a reflection of this.

In a city of two million people, where it is estimated there are at least one million weapons, it is clear many people simply do not trust the forces of the transitional government to provide protection. Indeed, the price of an AK-47 in the gun markets has doubled in recent days.

Regional importance

Somalia's neighbours have a clear interest in seeing a peaceful settlement in a country that has experienced massive instability over the past 15 years. Kenya has suffered two terrorist attacks in the past eight years. The men thought to be behind those events are among those believed to be in hiding after the recent retreat of the Union of Islamic Courts from their last stronghold in Kismayo.

Kenya also assumed the role of peace-broker during attempts to establish an administration across the border, which finally resulted in the installation of the transitional government two years ago.

Nairobi has a political imperative to make the transitional government work. Uganda and Sudan have their own conflicts, which influence their stance. An unstable Somalia facilitates the easy flow of weapons and cash. And Ethiopia - Somalia's long-time Christian foe - wants to keep its neighbour in check.

Ethiopia helped install President Abdullahi Yusuf to counter Islamic expansion and the threat posed by its long-time enemy, Eritrea.

Ethiopia receives military training and lavish funding from the West, which has accorded it special status and is viewed by many as a proxy of the US.

BBC

 

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