Fri, Dec 08, 2006 - Page 1 News List

Somalia's Islamists blast UN decision to send peacekeepers

AGENCIES , MOGADISHU

Somalia's powerful Islamist movement said yesterday that UN endorsement of an African peacekeeping force will "add fuel to the fire" in the Horn of Africa nation many fear is on the verge of all-out war.

But the interim government -- whose aspirations of restoring central rule to Somalia were dented by the rise of the Islamists this year -- welcomed the prospect of military support and cited resolution promoter the US for special thanks.

Despite fears that a peacekeeping force may draw foreign jihadists into Somalia, the UN Security Council approved the measure on Wednesday with the explicit aim of propping up the Western-backed government of President Abdullahi Yusuf.

The Yusuf government's bid to restore central rule for the first time since 1991 has been hurt by the Islamists' takeover of Mogadishu and a swathe of southern Somalia since June.

Following European pressure on Washington, the UN motion was watered down to bar the peacekeepers from occupying border states, whose presence in Somalia was viewed as potentially inflammatory.

The resolution, co-sponsored by the council's African members, partially lifts an arms embargo on Somalia so the regional force can be supplied with weapons and military equipment and train the government's security forces.

Other changes, according to diplomats, included specifying that exemptions to the UN arms embargo would apply only to troop-contributing African states, and that the force's first job would be "monitoring."

That, however, did not mollify the Islamists. They have increasingly used peacekeeping plans as a rallying cry and view the resolution as being openly pro-government and against them.

"The UN authorizing new weapons is like adding fuel to the fire," Islamist spokesman Abdirahman Ali Mudey said.

Ibrahim Hassan Addow, the Islamists' de facto foreign minister, said his militarily strong movement would forcibly resist any foreign forces.

"We see this as an invading force and we will have to defend our country," he said.

Diplomats, however, view any actual arrival of peacekeepers as a long way off. They said the UN resolution may be designed more for political than practical impact at the moment.

Fears of a regional war may also make the African Union baulk.

Al-Qaeda head Osama bin Laden has said any deployment of foreign forces in Somalia would be an anti-Muslim "crusade."

Arch-foes Ethiopia and Eritrea already aid the government and Islamists respectively, UN experts say.

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