NAIROBI (Reuters) - The twin-pronged political and peacekeeping approach to ending almost two decades of civil war in Somalia is beginning to pay dividends, a senior United Nations official said on Thursday.
Lynn Pascoe, the U.N. Under Secretary General for Political Affairs, said there was growing regional and international support for Somalia’s fragile government and he welcomed the recent strengthening of the African Union peacekeeping force.
He acknowledged many problems remained, including how the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) could deliver services to a nation heavily dependent on outside aid and the strengthening of al Qaeda-linked Somali rebels.
“Is this a huge challenge? Yes. But what strikes me is how the pieces are coming into place and the political will of the international community is strengthening,” Pascoe told reporters in the Kenyan capital a day after visiting Mogadishu.
“We’re beginning to make some progress, but I am not saying there is a wonderful solution at hand.”
Heavy shelling pounded the bullet-scarred Somali capital Mogadishu on Thursday, the 11th straight day of fighting between insurgents and African Union-backed government troops.
More than 150 people have been killed in Mogadishu in the latest bout of violence since al Shabaab militants vowed to intensify their jihad against President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed, a former Islamist rebel now seen by militants as a Western puppet.
The hardline Islamists control much of Mogadishu, as well as huge tracts of southern and central Somalia.
“Nothing there is buckling under the incredibly heavy surge of al Shabaab and it does have foreign fighters in its ranks. I am actually quite hopeful things are beginning to head in the right direction,” Pascoe said.
Asked whether the United Nations was any closer to sending its own peacekeepers into the anarchic Horn of Africa nation, Pascoe said he expected to see a further bolstering of African Union (AU) peacekeeper numbers.
He said it was clear that a strengthened role for the AU’s AMISOM forces was needed, but did not say if he meant extra troops or a change in mandate to allow peacekeepers to take the fight to the rebels, a move supported by some regional leaders.
After bomb attacks on the Ugandan capital Kampala in July, the AU pledged an additional 4,000 troops to support the Ugandan and Burundian soldiers in Mogadishu. At the time there were more than 6,000 troops there and AU sources say the number has now risen to about 7,000.
Al Shabaab said the attacks, which killed at least 79 people, were revenge for Uganda’s peacekeeper contribution. The leader of a second rebel group told Reuters the insurgency would continue as long as there were foreign troops in Somalia.
“The fighting cannot stop and no political breakthrough can be reached while foreign enemies stay in our homeland. We can think about dialogue and reconciliation when the foreigners withdraw,” Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys said by telephone.