Thu, Feb 17, 2005 - Page 6 News List

Somalis oppose non-Muslim peace force


African and Arab officials working out how to deploy a peacekeeping force in Somalia heard from a Somali official who said residents of the lawless nation would not accept troops from neighboring countries.

Somalis would welcome the force only if it were made up of Muslim soldiers from other parts of Africa and the Muslim world, Mayor Ibrahim Omar Sabriyeh Shawey on Tuesday told the 12 military and civilian officials from the African Union and Arab League.

The head of the fact-finding team, Admore Kambudzi, said the African Union will take Somali sensitivities into account before deciding on what kind of force to send.

The force is to protect officials in a new transitional government -- the second in five years for Somalia, which has been without an effective central government since 1991. Neighboring Ethiopia, Kenya and Djibouti have so far agreed to provide troops or logistical support for the 7,500-strong initial force.

"We welcome foreign troops if they're not from the neighboring countries, especially from Ethiopia," Shawey told the officials, who arrived on Monday. Somalia lost a 1977 war with Ethiopia, and "we would rather accept troops from the rest of Africa and from the Muslim world as a whole."

Shawey's statement underscored concerns of Mogadishu residents who, spurred on by Islamic clerics, demonstrated on Friday and Monday against the prospect of troops being sent from neighboring or non-Muslim states.

Analysts have also warned that sending in troops from neighboring countries that have backed different Somali factions could further destabilize the Horn of Africa nation.

Shawey did not say if Somalis would fight troops from neighboring countries, but some Islamic clerics and even a few members of the new government have threatened to violently resist any troops from neighboring states.

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