Somalia peacekeepers need more “meat”

International peacekeepers in Somalia should be given a stronger mandate to allow them to push back the Islamist insurgents who control large swathes of the country, a senior EU official said yesterday.
The al Shabaab insurgents, who have links to al Qaeda and include foreign Islamists among their ranks, control most of the south of Somlia and all but a few blocks of the capital after stepping up their attacks in the last two months, Reuter`s reports.
Louis Michel, European Commissioner for Development and Humanitarian Aid, told Reuters in an interview that the 4300-strong African Union (AU) force which is protecting government sites in the capital needs to be given a freer hand.
“We need in my opinion change the mandate, to give the mandate more space and more meat, so that they can engage the rebels,” Michel said on the sidelines of a summit of AU heads of state in the Libyan city of Sirte.
He said in parallel with that, foreign states should help strengthen the capacity of Somalia’s government to resist the insurgents by providing money and training to help create a viable army and police force.
AU heads of state are expected to discuss the worsening situation in Somalia and possible changes to the mandate of the AU peacekeeping force at their three-day summit in Libya, which began yesterday.
Harsh punishments
The insurgents stepped up attacks in early May to try to oust President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed, unleashing some of the worst violence the troubled country has seen in years.
The government has declared a state of emergency.
The rebels have imposed a strict version of Islamic law in areas they control. In one case, they cut off a hand and foot each from four young men accused of stealing, and paraded the severed limbs through the streets of the capital, Mogadishu.
The British minister responsible for Africa policy, Lord Mark Malloch-Brown, said he expected the AU summit to look at reviewing the peacekeepers’ mandate.
“There are a number of different steps being reviewed in the summit. One is a bit more robust rules of engagement for the peacekeeping troops,” Malloch-Brown told reporters on the sidelines of the summit.
Another issue likely to feature at the gathering of African leaders is the fragile state of a 2005 peace deal which ended a two-decade civil war in Sudan between the country’s Muslim north and mostly Christian south.
Diplomats have warned the deal could unravel, in part because of a dispute about how the two sides should share out the country’s oil wealth.
“Of course I feel very concerned about that,” the EU’s Michel told Reuters.
“We don’t feel a real will coming from the president of Sudan to open the gates and give an opportunity to give the peace a real chance.”