(photo credit: AP)
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged the international community on Thursday to redouble efforts to stabilize Somalia and reiterated his concern that US attacks were harming civilians and could have "unintended consequences."
At his first press conference since taking the reins of the United Nations on Jan. 1, Ban stressed the importance of protecting civilians and quickly restarting political negotiations to bring peace to the country.
"The situation in Somalia is a stark reminder of the need to redouble our political efforts to bring stabilization of the political and social situation as soon as possible," Ban said.
Somalia has not had a functioning government since clan-based warlords toppled dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991 and then turned on each other, sinking the Horn of Africa nation of seven million people into chaos.
The rout of the Islamic fundamentalist movement that controlled most of Somalia for the past six months by Somali government troops and Ethiopian soldiers has allowed the country's weak UN-backed transitional government to enter the capital, Mogadishu, for the first time since it was established in 2004.
Ban was asked to elaborate on the concerns expressed by his spokeswoman that US bombing in southern Somalia - which Washington said was aimed at fleeing al-Qaida terrorists - could escalate hostilities and harm civilians who are reported to have been killed in the airstrikes.
"I'm concerned about all this impact on the reported loss of civilians," he said. "I believe that we must make every effort to protect civilians and be cautious of other unintended consequences in this situation."
"I was hoping that while I fully understand this necessity behind this attack, we should be cautious enough not to see (that) ... this kind of situation will lead to unwanted directions," Ban said.
He stressed the need for a "political negotiated process" to peacefully resolve the differences in Somalia. Francois Lonseny Fall, the top UN envoy to Somalia, "is now closely discUSsing this matter with the concerned parties there," Ban said.
The UN Security Council on Wednesday backed the speedy deployment of African troops to Somalia and strongly supported a dialogue among all political players and humanitarian aid for the country.
RUSsia's UN Ambassador Vitaly Churkin, the current council president, told reporters after a closed-door meeting that members regard Somalia as "a high priority matter" and are concerned about instability, security, and the humanitarian situation.
The council backed a UN plan to send a humanitarian assessment mission to the border between Somalia and Kenya and strongly supported an "inclUSive political dialogue among varioUS political forces in Somalia," he said.
Churkin said the council favors speedy deployment of a new force to be set up by the African Union and a seven-nation regional group. Britain's UN Ambassador Emyr Jones Parry said getting this troops on the ground quickly would enable Ethiopian troops to withdraw.
Undersecretary-General for Political Affairs Ibrahim Gambari told reporters after briefing the council that Nigeria, South Africa and Malawi "are said to be considering sending troops" to Somalia.
"We hope that these countries will actually go ahead and commit," he said.
Gambari said he emphasized the need to speedily organize and deploy a stabilization force and to encourage leaders of Somalia's transitional government to engage with clan elders, members of civil society, especially women's groups, and "positive members" of the routed Union of Islamic Courts.
"Everybody acknowledged that this has provided a historic opportunity for the Somalis to achieve national reconciliation," said China's deputy UN ambassador Liu Zhenmin.