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15.01.2007 Somalia

Hunt for Somali peacekeeper force

Somali police are continuing arms searches in MogadishuSomali police are continuing arms searches in Mogadishu
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Kenya's president has sent delegates to seven African countries to try to find peacekeeping troops for Somalia.

Mwai Kibaki, head of a regional body, is hoping for an 8,000-strong force.

It would replace Ethiopian troops who helped Somalia's government oust an Islamist militia but whose presence, analysts say, may hinder lasting peace.

A delegation from the African Union has arrived in Somalia's capital, Mogadishu, with the deployment of peacekeepers also high on its agenda.

Aids effect
Mr Kibaki, who chairs the East Africa regional group known as Igad, has sent ministers to Rwanda, Tanzania, Mozambique, Angola, Zambia, Tunisia and Algeria, asking for troop support.

So far only Uganda has offered troops - 1,500 - although it needs parliamentary approval.

BBC Africa editor Martin Plaut says African leaders are concerned about becoming bogged down in a quagmire.

Our correspondent also says that Aids is eroding the continent's ability to provide troops for peacekeeping operations at a time when its many wars are placing increased demands on armies.

The disease has left armies with vacant posts and units operating below strength, he says.

Ethiopia wants to withdraw its soldiers from Somalia within weeks.

However, the nation remains dangerously volatile with remnants of the Islamist militia still at large.

Mogadishu is also still awash with weapons.

It became one of the world's most dangerous cities following the ousting of former leader Muhammad Siad Barre in 1991 although the Union of Islamic Courts' six-month rule restored some order.

The interim government and Ethiopian troops are continuing searches for weapons in the capital.

African Union officials are in Mogadishu to discuss peacekeeping at the invitation of Somalia's interim government.

It is unlikely members will agree to send peacekeepers unless fighting has halted, analysts say.

On Saturday, Somalia's parliament voted to declare three months of martial law.

MPs sitting in the provincial town of Baidoa voted 154 to two to ratify Prime Minister Ali Mohamad Ghedi's plan to restore order.

Martial law will allow the president to issue decrees on matters of national security, bans unlawful demonstrations and outlaws the spreading of propaganda.

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