Saturday, January 08, 2011

Terrorism: Stop “foreign fighters and other spoilers” turning Horn of Africa into launch pad for global terrorism

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is calling on the international community to provide urgent military and other support to Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government (TFG) to stop “foreign fighters and other spoilers” turning the region into the next stronghold of international terrorism.

“Security remains the single most critical challenge confronting the transitional federal institutions,” he writes in his latest report to the Security Council on a country torn apart by 20 years of factional fighting.

The TFG in Mogadishu, the capital, has been under attack from Al-Shabaab and other Islamist militants controlling the south and hundreds of thousands of civilians have been driven from their homes by the conflict.

“The presence of foreign extremist fighters in Somalia is a constant reminder of the high risk that the Horn of Africa is rapidly becoming the next front in global efforts against international terrorism,” he adds, calling for urgent military, financial, logistical and other support to the TFG and regional organizations that are aiding it, including the African Union (AU), which has deployed a UN-backed peacekeeping force in Somalia, known as AMISOM.

Last month, the Council approved a 50 per cent increase in AMISOM to 12,000 troops, a move welcomed by Mr. Ban in the report. “I urge that consideration be given to the upgrade of the support package to AMISOM to match the standards of the support provided to United Nations peacekeeping operations,” he adds.

He notes that the AU has endorsed a new AMISOM strength of 20,000 troops, with requisite air and maritime capabilities, in two phases: initially, 4,000 more troops in Mogadishu, and then a deployment of an additional 8,000 troops to expand gradually to other areas of Somalia, in particular those areas controlled by groups allied to the TFG.

He also acknowledges the AU call to the Security Council to reaffirm its commitment to deploy a UN peacekeeping force, by transforming AMISOM into one of the peacekeeping operations run by the world body, with a fixed timeline for this.

But he says the situation is not yet ripe for setting timelines and the UN, the AU and other key partners contributing to the restoration of peace and stability in Somalia should jointly conduct regular assessments on the ground and progress towards attainment of security and other benchmarks “for an incremental approach” to the possible transition from AMISOM to a UN peacekeeping operation.

Because of the security situation the UN does not maintain a full international presence in Somalia, and its UN Political Office for Somalia (UNPOS) is based in Nairobi, capital of neighbouring Kenya.

But Mr. Ban notes that the UN continues to expand its footprint in Mogadishu, with 61 missions conducted recently by international staff from the UN Support Office for AMISOM (UNSOA), UNPOS, the UN Mine Action Service, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), the World Food Programme (WFP), the UN World Health Organization (WHO), the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the UN Development Programme (UNDP).

On the political situation in Somalia, which has not had a functioning central government since Muhammad Siad Barre was overthrown in 1991, Mr. Ban notes differences within the TFG, welcomes the appointment of a new prime minister and cabinet, and urges them to step up efforts to convince opposition groups to lay down arms and work for peace as has happened with the inclusion of Ahlu Sunnah Wal Jama’a Islamists in the peace process and cabinet.

Turning to the humanitarian situation, he cites “a marked but fragile improvement” due to two good rainy seasons with exceptionally high harvests, but this is threatened by dry weather and an upsurge in conflict which started concurrently in August and continued to intensify until the end of the year.

According to a UN assessment, nearly 2 million Somalis need aid, a 25 per cent decrease due to a combination of a good harvest and a more accurate system of documenting internally displaced persons (IDPs).

But the number of civilians displaced and wounded in the conflict has increased, with more than 44,000 people displaced during the third quarter of the year and an additional 65,000 in the last quarter. Of the 54,000 people displaced from Mogadishu between August and November, 32,000 fled the city, and 22,000 relocated to relatively calmer areas of the city. In late October, clashes between Al-Shabaab and pro-government forces displaced thousands of people, many of whom crossed into Kenya.

“I remain deeply concerned about the impact of the conflict on civilians and call on all parties to ensure their protection and remind them of their responsibility to protect,” Mr. Ban concludes. “I condemn the launching of attacks by extremists from populated areas and demand an end to these attacks.

“I also call on all parties to the conflict to respect humanitarian principles and allow the delivery of assistance to populations most in need. I call on the donor community to continue their critical support to the people of Somalia.”