Britain pushing for new strategy in Somalia

Britain's Ambassador to the United Nations Mark Lyall Grant speaks to reporters after a meeting in the United Nations Security Council on Syria February 4, 2012 at the United Nations in New York. (AFP PHOTO / DON EMMERT)

UNITED NATIONS: Britain is trying to galvanize international support for a new military and political strategy in Somalia that would intensify pressure on al-Shabab militants and try to pull the failed Horn of Africa nation back from the grip of pirates and terrorists.

Britain's U.N. Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant said Security Council experts are discussing a new U.N. resolution that would authorize an increase in the African Union force in Somalia from 12,000 to about 17,700.

Council diplomats said Thursday the resolution will hopefully be adopted next week - before Britain hosts a conference in London on Feb. 23 where senior representatives from more than 40 governments and international organizations are expected to adopt a new international approach to Somalia's myriad problems.

Lyall Grant said Wednesday the purpose of the conference is to take advantage of what Britain sees as "a window of opportunity" created by the military pressure on al-Shabab by a combination of the AU force, known as AMISOM, and Kenyan forces.

The aim, he said, is "to galvanize the international community behind a coordinated political and security, counterterrorism, anti-piracy and humanitarian strategy for the future of Somalia, and to try for the first time in 20 years to break Somalia out of its failed state and give it some hope for the future."

Somalia has had transitional administrations for the past seven years but has not had a functioning central government since 1991, when warlords overthrew a longtime dictator and turned on each other, plunging the impoverished country into chaos.

The weak transitional government has been fighting against al-Shabab, which began as a movement to oust Ethiopian troops from Somalia some six years ago.

Al-Shabab is currently being hit from three sides in Somalia. Currently, the U.N.-backed government holds the capital, Mogadishu, with the support of 9,500 AMISOM soldiers from Uganda, Djibouti, and Burundi, after largely pushing out al-Shabab fighters. Kenyan forces who moved into Somalia in October are pressuring al-Shabab from the south, and Ethiopian forces are pressuring them from the west. Both nations sent in troops amid concerns that Somalia's instability will leak over their borders.

Authorizing an increase in the AMISOM force to about 17,700 will put the Kenyan and Ethiopian troops under the AU umbrella, council diplomats said, speaking on condition of anonymity because discussions on the new resolution have been private.

Calls to experts at the Eurasia Group and the Brookings Institution seeking comment on the proposed resolution and conference were not immediately returned.





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