Fri, Feb 02, 2007 - Page 6 News List

Somalia imposes martial law, AU to send in troops


Officials began imposing martial law across the country, moving to strengthen the transitional government's tenuous grip on power as the African Union (AU) worked on Wednesday to assemble a peacekeeping mission for Somalia.

Prime Minister Ali Mohamed Gedi said that measures to impose martial law would begin with a curfew in the southern town of Baidoa.

"Martial law will be implemented across government-controlled areas, starting with Baidoa tonight," he announced late on Tuesday on state-run radio, invoking a three-month emergency law passed by parliament on Jan. 13.

He warned that remnants of the ousted Islamic movement had returned to some areas and would try to further destabilize the already lawless country.

It was unclear on Wednesday what other measures the government was taking.

Somali government troops -- backed by Ethiopian soldiers, tanks and war planes -- ousted militants from the Council of Islamic Courts movement last month. But since then, factional violence has again become a feature of life in Mogadishu.

Ethiopia says it does not have the resources to stay in Somalia as a peacekeeping force, and already has begun withdrawing its troops, presenting the possibility of a dangerous power vacuum.

On Wednesday, a senior AU official said in Ethiopia that three battalions of peacekeepers from Uganda and Nigeria were ready to be deployed to Somalia and would be sent soon as possible.

The AU was pressing ahead with the Somalia peacekeeping mission despite securing only half the 8,000 troops needed. Five nations -- Uganda, Nigeria, Malawi, Burundi and Ghana -- have pledged about 4,000 troops.

The AU official, speaking to reporters on condition of anonymity, said securing the total number of troops was not the hard part. The main challenge was raising the estimated US$34 million a month to pay for the mission.

The EU has pledged US$20 million for a peacekeeping force, and US$40 million in overall support has been offered by the US.

The US also has pledged to offer support airlifting troops to Somalia.

Another hurdle was the importance for the majority of the AU peacekeeping mission to be Muslim, since most Somalis are Muslim.

The international community has pressed Somali authorities to move toward national reconciliation and to establish peace.

On Tuesday, Somali President Abdullahi Yusuf agreed to a national reconciliation conference.

But that was followed on Wednesday by a possible setback for building unity.

Sheik Adan Mohamed Nor, a government loyalist, was elected speaker of the parliament on Wednesday to replace former speaker Sharif Hassan Sheik Aden, who was voted out two weeks ago because of his close ties with the Islamic movement.

Both the EU and the US had called on the government to reinstate Aden as speaker, saying he could play an important role in promoting reconciliation and peace.

On Tuesday, extremists said they would try to kill any peacekeepers. In a videotape posted on the official Web site of the Islamic movement, a hooded gunman read a statement saying that any AU peacekeepers would be seen as invaders.

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