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AU delegation goes to Somalia for peacekeeping talks

Monday, January 15, 2007

MOGADISHU, Somalia -- An African Union delegation was in Somalia's capital Sunday to discuss the deployment of peacekeepers here, as the government struggled to disarm Mogadishu residents reluctant to give up their guns after years of fending for themselves amid chaos.

The United States, United Nations and the AU all want to deploy peacekeepers to stop Somalia from descending again to anarchy. So far no African governments have responded to the call for an 8,000-strong peacekeeping force, although Uganda has indicated it is willing to send 1,500 peacekeepers as part of a wider mission.

"A team has gone to take a look and to get information that will help us devise a plan for peacekeepers," Mohamed Foum, the AU's special representative for Somalia, said Sunday. He said nine delegates arrived Saturday to meet with government officials.

President Abdullahi Yusuf needs to establish enough calm to allow international peacekeepers to deploy in Somalia to protect his government until it can establish an effective police force and army. Last month, the government, with the critical help of Ethiopia's military, drove out an Islamic militia that controlled much of southern Somalia since summer.

Somali and Ethiopian soldiers on Sunday expanded their house-to-house searches for weapons in Mogadishu, whose residents remain heavily armed after more than a decade of anarchy.

"The government's plan of disarmament is a way to stabilize the country," government spokesman Abdirahman Dinari said.

But many in the capital say they would rather protect themselves for now than trust government forces who controlled just one town before Ethiopia stepped in.

Hassan Mohamoud said troops took his Kalashnikov assault rifle.

"I bought the gun about 10 years ago in order to safeguard myself and my family," he said. "But now I worry about whether the government will take responsibility for our safety."

In a potential sign of renewed lawlessness, fighting between clan militias over pasture and water for livestock has killed at least 20 people since Thursday in rural central Somalia, according to clan elders and witnesses.

In southern Somalia, Ethiopian jets reportedly bombed at least one village, killing three people, a traditional elder reported. Dinari had no details Sunday.

Dinari said that the government on Friday captured fighters from Chechnya, Eritrea, Sweden, and Britain who were loyal to the Islamists.


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