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SOMALIA: Peacekeeping mission extended as parties sign Djibouti peace accord

NAIROBI, 20 August 2008 (IRIN) - After months of on-off talks in Djibouti, representatives of Somalia's Transitional Federal Government (TFG) and a faction of an Eritrea-based opposition alliance have signed an agreement to cease hostilities.

At the same time, the United Nations Security Council has extended the mandate of the African Union peacekeeping mission in the war-torn country. While welcoming the decision, both the government and opposition leaders called for the deployment of a much bigger force under the UN.

The Djibouti peace deal was finally signed after the delegations initialled it on 9 June. Both sides have expressed optimism about the agreement.

"The talks were very successful," Ahmed Abdisalam, the deputy prime minister and leader of the government delegation, told IRIN on 20 August.

He said the sides had held serious discussions "on issues that divide us and the way to a lasting peace and reconciliation in our country".

Abdisalam added that the agreement dealt with practical matters, such as the delivery of humanitarian assistance to the people.

"Both sides have agreed that we should do all we can to make sure that no-one hinders the delivery of aid to the needy," he said.

Abdirahman Abdishakuur, the leader of the delegation for the opposition Alliance for the Re-liberation of Somalia, better known as "The Alliance", said the success of the agreement would depend "on how we implement what we signed".

"I am confident that once we have a schedule for Ethiopian troop withdrawal a ceasefire will follow," he said.

The UN Security Council extended the mandate of the African Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), for six months. AMISOM has about 1,600 troops from Uganda and Burundi.

While welcoming the extension, the government side urged the international community to deploy a larger UN force.

"What we need is the timely deployment of a robust UN stabilisation force," said Abdisalam.

He said that given the country's state of insecurity, the small AU force currently deployed was not enough.

For his part, Abdishakur said his group wanted AMISOM removed and replaced with "troops from friendly countries under a UN mandate".

"These people [AMISOM] have become part of the problem and need to be replaced," he said.

The success of the Djibouti agreement was partly dependent on the deployment of international force, Abdishakur said.

Extending the peacekeeping mission, the Security Council urged AU member states to help AMISOM "facilitate the full withdrawal of other foreign forces from Somalia and help create the conditions for lasting peace and stability there".

Established in February 2007, AMISOM was to have 8,000 troops, mandated to provide protection to the Transitional Federal Institutions (TFIs), to help them carry out their functions of government, and to provide security for key infrastructure.

Somali civil society groups termed the extension "meaningless" to the Somali people.

"People are being killed displaced as we speak," a civil society activist, who declined to be named, said. "What is the extension going to do? It will not change the plight of the people."

The source said initially there was hope that the Djibouti agreement would bring some relief.

"That hope is no longer there; the violence, the displacement and the atrocities are worse today than in June [when the Djibouti agreement was initialled]," the activist said.

Conflict, drought and hyperinflation have combined to create a humanitarian crisis in the war-torn country. Aid workers estimate 2.6 million Somalis need assistance - a number that is expected to reach 3.5 million by the end of the year if the humanitarian situation does not improve, according to the UN.

ah/sr

Copyright © IRIN 2008
This material comes to you via IRIN, the humanitarian news and analysis service of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. The opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the United Nations or its Member States.
IRIN is a project of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.



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