Last week the U.N. Security Council approved a peacekeeping operation for Somalia. Itâ€™s the first step to actually deploying troops to the region.
There are huge hurdles, of course. The last time the U.N. tried to intervene in the mostly ungoverned country, 18 U.S. soldiers and hundreds of Somalis died in the Battle of Mogadishu. Itâ€™ll be an uphill fight getting donor nations to pony up forces after that.
But the African Union force in Mogadishu has proved that peacekeeping can work in Somalia. The A.U. has shown that itâ€™s vital for peacekeepers to be perceived as neutral parties in the ongoing conflict pitting Somaliaâ€™s unpopular clan-based â€œtransitionalâ€ government and their Ethiopian allies versus Islamic insurgents led by the Al Shabab group.
Indeed, it appears that the Security Council vote is tied to recent assertions by a key Somali opposition group that no peace is possible in Somalia until Ethiopia withdraws. Somali Weyn radio has the scoop:
Dahir Mohamud Gelle, the spokesman of Asmara group [based in Eritrea], has told Somali Weyn radio that they would not have sturdy negotiation with the transitional federal government delegates unless the Ethiopian troops absolutely pull out from Somali soil.
â€œWe have discussed with the United Nations regarding about this issue of the withdrawal of the Ethiopian troops, and if this happens we are ready to meet with our fellow Somalis, in order to gain back the reputation of our mother Somalia,â€ said Dahir, the spokesman of the Asmara team.
But the Ethiopians, for all their brutality and unpopularity, nevertheless play a vital role in providing a measure of street-level security in parts of Mogadishu. If they leave, as they should, some armed body must replace them. U.N. troops would be an excellent replacement for the Ethiopians, provided theyâ€™re not white and take pains to be neutral peace brokers.