Africa calls for air, naval blockade of Somalia

African governments say blockade would stop arms reaching insurgent groups.

New York: African governments called on the United Nations to back a naval and air blockade of Somalia and for the international force in the war-torn country to be increased to 20,000 troops.

The blockade would stop arms reaching insurgent groups, led by the al Qaeda affiliated Shebab, which is trying to topple Somalia`s transitional government, said Ramtane Lamamra, the African Union peace and security commissioner.

"The African Union is very concerned that the insecurity in Somalia is spilling over into the region," Lamamra told the UN Security Council, highlighting bomb attacks in the Ugandan capital in July claimed by Shebab.

The African envoy said an AU ministerial meeting had decided to strengthen the AU force in Somalia (AMISOM) in coming months "in order to bring its military component to 20,000 and its police component to 1,680”.

He called on the UN Security Council to endorse the move and make sure the troops are properly paid and equipped.

There are currently fewer than 8,000 poorly funded and badly equipped troops propping up the transitional government in Mogadishu. These are mainly from Uganda and Burundi.

The AU ministers also called for an international blockade, according to the envoy.

Lamamra said there should be "a naval blockade and a no-fly zone over Somalia to prevent the entry of foreign fighters in Somalia as well as flights carrying shipments of weapons and ammunition to armed groups in Somalia."

The envoy said the international naval force seeking to prevent pirate attacks in the Indian Ocean should provide "a more direct, tangible and operational support to Amisom”.

Somalia`s Foreign Minister Yusuf Ibrahim Hassan said the transitional government "completely" backs the call for a blockade and strengthened international force. He said Somalia was in "a dire situation".

Any strengthened force would be critical for the prospects of the transitional government, whose mandate ends in August 2011.

Uganda has said it is ready to provide the troops needed to increase the international force to 20,000 but it has demanded international financing and equipment for the troops.

Following months of infighting, the prime minister resigned last month and was replaced by Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, a Somali-born US citizen.

The United States has indicated it would support increasing the size of the Somalia force, but the UN Security Council has not yet determined how to pay for putting the African Union force under the UN umbrella.

The council, however, endorses changes to the peacekeeping force in coming weeks, diplomats said.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon told the meeting more international support is needed for the Somalia force and the transitional government.

Somalia has had no central government since a civil war erupted with the 1991 overthrow of former president Mohamed Siad Barre.

The fragile government has been confined to just a few streets in Mogadishu, where Islamist Shebab insurgents launched an uprising in May 2009 to topple the administration. Shebab also controls large swathes of southern and central Somalia.

Shebab last week took the key town of Dhusamareb in central Somalia from the Sufi sect Ahlu Sunna. But Somali government forces and their allies retook the southeastern town of Bulo Hawo near the Kenyan border on Sunday after defeating Shebab.

Bureau Report