Nairobi, Kenya (CNSNews.com) - New peacekeeping challenges for Somalia are emerging even as a senior United States diplomat in East Africa expressed concern about delays in the deployment of a proposed Africa Union-led force.
Analysts are also worried about the implications for the peacekeeping mission posed by Islamist Sudan's imminent chairmanship of the 53-member African body.
Michael Ranneberger, the U.S. ambassador to Kenya who also has responsibility for Somalia, told reporters here that the A.U. should deploy a robust force immediately to ease the burden of Ethiopian troops who are facing isolated Islamist attacks in the capital, Mogadishu.
The U.S. has contributed $17 million towards an envisaged peacekeeping force in Somalia and a further $24 million for humanitarian assistance.
According to the A.U.'s communications office, the Ethiopian troops who drove out Islamists last month are expected to leave Somalia by next Monday. Analysts worry that failure to replace them with a regional force could create a power vacuum.
Somalia's transitional federal government, which relocated to Mogadishu after the Islamists fled, lacks a strong military and faces ongoing threats from elements linked to the radical Islamic Courts Union (ICU), which controlled the capital for six months.
South Africa, which has one of the continent's strongest militaries and has frequently contributed peacekeeping personnel, has already pointed to its existing commitments elsewhere in Africa.
South African Deputy Foreign Minister Aziz Pahad said the nation's capacity to handle more than four peacekeeping missions in Africa would influence its decision on how to help Somalia.
A South African government official who spoke on condition of anonymity said his country was considering providing "headquarter personnel" only.
Others, like Somalia's southwestern neighbor, Kenya, will also not be sending troops. The foreign affairs ministry here said Kenya, which has peacekeepers in Burundi, Liberia, and along the Eritrea-Ethiopia border, would not have a direct military role in Somalia.
Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki, who chairs a seven-nation regional body called Intergovernmental Authority for Development, has sent special envoys to South Africa, Mozambique, Angola, Tanzania, Rwanda, Zambia and Tunisia, requesting contributions for a Somalia force.
Countries that have expressed interest so far include Uganda and Nigeria.
Some leaders have already voiced doubts about the A.U.'s ability to stabilize Somalia.
Eritrean President Isaias Afewerki said the A.U. mission was "doomed to fail" because the African body lacked the organizational capability to deploy effectively.
Eritrea, which is hostile to Ethiopia, sympathized with and supported the ICU in Mogadishu.
Afewerki predicted that Somalia had not seen the last of the Islamists.
Another challenge facing the deployment is the fact that Sudan, also an ICU sponsor, is set to assume the rotating chairmanship of the A.U. when the bloc holds a summit on January 29-30.
Wesley Kahumbu, a Kenyan political scholar and analyst, said a Sudanese chairmanship was cause for concern.
"We have seen what Khartoum has done in Darfur even under the eyes of the world," he said. "What do you expect in Somalia if it [Sudan] assumes the chairmanship?"
Peter Takirambudde, Africa director at New York-based Human Rights Watch, has called on African states to reject a Sudanese A.U. chairmanship, citing Khartoum's support for militias and attacks on civilians in Darfur.
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