Specter of Regional War Hangs Over Horn of Africa

Stephen Mbogo | Correspondent | Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Specter of Regional War Hangs Over Horn of Africa

Nairobi, Kenya (CNSNews.com) - The Horn of Africa appears to be inching towards regional war, amid new threats of Islamist violence as the U.S. prepares to introduce a U.N. Security Council resolution supporting a peacekeeping force to uphold the shaky transitional government in Somalia.

The U.S. Embassy in Kenya late last week issued a new terror warning following the discovery of two letters calling for the assassination of prominent Kenyans, attacks against Ethiopian citizens, and assaults targeting strategic facilities in both nations.

The letters allegedly originated from the Islamic Court Union (ICU), the radical Islamic group controlling most of Somalia. The ICU has denied their authenticity.

Ethiopia, which has sent troops into Somalia in a bid to protect the authority of the war-torn country's Transitional Federal Government (TFG), is already on the verge of war with the Islamists, who have declared a jihad against Ethiopia.

Latest reports Tuesday said Ethiopian forces had exchanged fire with Islamists in a strategic area north of the capital, Mogadishu.

Kenya, which played host to two years of talks that led to the formation of the TFG, has placed its armed forces on high alert and tightened security along its border with Somalia.

The U.S. plans later this week to introduce a Security Council resolution calling for the deployment of a regional military force to support the TFG.

The force would fall under a seven-nation regional body known as IGAD, but the grouping includes Ethiopia, which backs the TFG, and Eritrea, which supports the Islamists. The other members are Kenya, Uganda, Sudan, Djibouti - and Somalia itself.

A global security monitoring group has warned that the proposed resolution could end up fueling the war.

The International Crisis Group also says any military intervention by frontline states like Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda would be seen as offering support for the TFG and could further heighten tensions with the ICU.

The non-governmental organization argued in a briefing this week that despite international recognition, the TFG does not enjoy broad support or legitimacy in Somalia.

The Islamists are well armed and enjoy support in areas under their controls, the briefing said.

The International Crisis Group urged the international community to challenge the Islamists to reform their stance and engage in dialogue.

It said U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan should get involved in peace talks scheduled for mid-December in Khartoum to increase chances of their success.

"Any U.N.-sponsored military deployment should be designed to support an agreed ceasefire, not undermine efforts to achieve such a ceasefire, and should be made up of forces acceptable to both parties," it said.

Regional security analyst Lt. Col. Jaw Kitiku of the Security Research and Information Center, a Nairobi-based research group, warned that failure to settle the conflict effectively may result in regional war and increased terror threats against the U.S. and countries in East Africa.

The most viable option now, he argued, was for the regional countries to initiate another peace process, this time between the TFG and the Islamists.

Kitiku said formation of a unity government - including the Islamists - was essential.

U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said Washington is interested in seeing stability in the Horn of Africa

"We do have a strategy," McCormack told a press briefing. "We are working with other interested states as well as neighbors in the region. We believe we are pursuing the right strategy."

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