UN peacekeeping force for Somalia not viable-Ban

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UNITED NATIONS, Nov 9 (Reuters) Sending UN peacekeepers to Somalia is not realistic and the international community should consider other options including a ''coalition of the willing,'' Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said.

Hundreds of thousands of people have fled Mogadishu this year amid persistent fighting since Somalia's transitional government came to power after ousting militant Islamists with the help of Ethiopian troops.

The government has urged the United Nations to send peacekeepers. In August, the Security Council asked Ban to develop contingency plans for such a deployment.

''Under the prevailing political and security situation, I believe that the deployment of a United Nations peacekeeping operation cannot be considered a realistic and viable option,'' Ban said yesterday in a report to the Security Council.

He said it had not even been possible to send a technical assessment team to Somalia because of the lack of security, though he added the peacekeeping department would continue to review contingency plans for possible peacekeeping operations.

Earlier this year, the African Union agreed to deploy 8,000 troops to replace the government's Ethiopian backers, but so far only about 1,600 Ugandan troops have arrived.

In the latest spasm of violence, Somali insurgents dragged the bodies of dead Ethiopian soldiers through the streets of Mogadishu on Thursday amid fighting that killed at least 21 people.

The grisly scenes recalled the 1993 shooting down of two Black Hawk helicopters by Somali militiamen during a failed US operation to hunt down warlords in Mogadishu.

Images of dead Americans dragged through the streets by joyous Somalis deeply shocked US public opinion, precipitating American withdrawal and contributing to the ending of a UN peacekeeping operation in 1995.

Ban urged AU countries who have pledged soldiers to the current force there to deploy their troops as soon as possible, and said the United Nations would work with the AU to support the force, which faces serious financial and logistic problems.

''Given the complex security situation in Somalia, it may be advisable to look at additional security options, including the deployment of a robust multinational force or coalition of the willing,'' Ban said.

''Such a force could initially be small and self-sustaining, growing over time with the achievement of specific security and political milestones,'' he said, adding that in time such a force could allow the withdrawal of Ethiopian troops.

Ban also urged the Somali government to press ahead with national reconciliation, saying it should reach out to opposition groups and implement commitments such as preparing for elections in 2009.

Reuters MP VP0430

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