Somalia Conflict Alert
27 Nov 2006
The draft resolution the U.S. intends to present to the UN Security Council on 29 November could trigger all-out war in Somalia and destabilise the entire Horn of Africa region by escalating the proxy conflict between Ethiopia and Eritrea to dangerous new levels.
Instead of siding with one party in the civil conflict – the weak and fragmented Ethiopia-backed Transitional Federal Government (TFG) – the Council should apply maximum pressure on both it and the Eritrea-backed Council of Somali Islamic Courts (CSIC) to resume negotiations without preconditions.
The proposed resolution, which has the backing of African members of the Security Council, would authorise deployment of a regional military force (IGASOM) in support of the TFG and exempt that entity and troop contributing countries – Ethiopia, Uganda and possibly Kenya, amongst others – from the existing UN arms embargo. While its objectives are to strengthen the TFG, deter the CSIC from further expansion and avert the threat of full-scale war, it is likely to backfire on all three counts.
Crisis Group has consistently opposed deployment of a regional intervention force – especially one involving front-line states such as Ethiopia – unless it has the consent of all warring parties, and called for more robust enforcement of the UN arms embargo. The UN Monitoring Group, which reported on 16 October, similarly cited the dangers of such a deployment and urged instead strengthening the arms embargo through surveillance of all Somali borders.
Despite international recognition, the TFG has never enjoyed broad support or legitimacy within Somalia, and the TFG parliament split badly when it debated the issue of foreign troops in March 2005. Actual deployment would likely fracture the parliament beyond repair and reinforce the impression that the TFG is simply a proxy for Ethiopia. The loss of legitimacy in the eyes of the Somali public would be irreversible.
The CSIC, which controls most of south central Somalia, has repeatedly declared that it will wage a “jihad” against any foreign troops on Somali territory, including the Ethiopians already deployed there. It would likely perceive Security Council passage of the resolution as tantamount to a declaration of war. Rather than wait for the TFG to arm itself, it might well launch a pre-emptive attack on its seat in Baidoa. The CSIC is viewed as a danger to its neighbours because of its irredentist views, and support for international terrorist elements and cross-border Ethiopian rebel groups. In addition, it threatens to unseat the internationally recognised TFG. Instead of prioritising military protection of the TFG against the CSIC – which is itself receiving military support from as many as eight external countries – the international community should challenge the CSIC to reform its stance on each of these points and work towards a negotiated solution with the TFG.
The TFG and CSIC are scheduled to meet in Khartoum in mid-December for a third round of Arab League facilitated peace talks. Although previous talks made little headway, more effective international pressure on the parties, including a more active involvement from the UN Secretary General via his Special Representative, would increase the likelihood of success. Without this, the resolution would give the CSIC an excuse to withdraw altogether and would kill any hope of a negotiated ceasefire. Military confrontation would be the only remaining option.
Instead of authorising deployment of a regional force, the Council should push both parties to resume peace talks immediately. First on the agenda should be a comprehensive ceasefire covering:
disengagement of opposing forces;
withdrawal from Somalia of all foreign troops and military trainers; and
deployment of an International Verification Mission to monitor compliance with the agreement.
Any UN-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. If either party fails to demonstrate genuine commitment to this process, the Council should impose travel bans on its leaders, freeze assets and authorise economic sanctions against business interests.
As so often in Somalia, the consequence of an ill-considered intervention is likely to be more conflict, not less. Military measures must remain a weapon of last resort.