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Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Official: EU set to support expanded Somali peacekeeping force

The European Union is willing to help pay for more African Union peacekeepers in Somalia in an effort to clear al-Shabab militants from the country, a senior official said Monday.

The official, who could not be named under EU rules, said the bloc is prepared to provide “significant new resources” to help fund the force, and to help Somalia’s interim government return the nation to stability.

The U.N. Security Council is currently considering a new resolution that would authorize an increase in the AU force in Somalia from 10,000 to 18,000 troops.

The official did not specify a figure, but said the cost of the current peacekeeping force was about €10 million ($13 million) a month. An expanded force would amount to nearly double that.

Somalia has had transitional administrations for the past seven years but has not had a functioning central government since 1991.

Peacekeepers recently pushed al-Shabab militants out of the capital Mogadishu. The militia is also under pressure from Kenyan forces in the south and Ethiopian troops from the west. Both nations sent in troops amid concerns that Somalia’s instability will leak over their borders.

Al-Shabab has long had close links with al-Qaida, and the two announced an official merger earlier this month.

The EU is the biggest donor to Somalia, having spent over €1 billion ($1.3 billion) in the last four years for governance, security, humanitarian aid and economic growth. This includes financing a training program for Somali government troops in Uganda, which has already graduated 1,800 soldiers and is now training a further 1,000.

The EU official’s comments came ahead of an international conference on Somalia in London this week, where senior representatives from more than 40 governments and international organizations will try to agree on a new strategy to wrest the country from the ranks of the world’s failed states.

The British Foreign Office says it hopes for international agreement on what should succeed Somalia’s transitional government after its mandate expires in August, along with renewed commitment to tackle the country’s humanitarian crisis and terrorist threat.

The EU also provides a naval anti-piracy patrol off Somalia’s coastline as part of an international effort to crack down on the maritime bandits. The effort appears to be bearing fruit, the official said, because pirates are now holding just four ships and less than 100 crew members.

Source: The Associated Press

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