Expansion of Somalia's AU force studied at Madrid meeting
Representatives of 45 nations and international bodies met in Madrid Monday to consider plans to strengthen an African Union peacekeeping force in war-torn Somalia.
The AU force, known as AMISOM, comprises about 7,200 troops, and the meeting of the UN-backed International Contact Group on Somalia, which is to conclude on Tuesday, will "look into a possible reinforcement," Spain's foreign ministry said in a statement.
Stepping up the fight against maritime piracy in waters off the coast of Somalia and finding ways to boost support for the country's transitional government will be among the other topics discussed, it added.
Delegates from 45 nations and international organisations, including the United States and the European Union, are taking part in the meeting which was closed to the press.
Somali President Sharif Sheikh Ahmed and the top United Nations envoy to the country, Augustine Mahiga, are among the participants.
Ahmed warned in a speech before the UN General Assembly on Saturday that Somalia is "a weak link" in the fight against international terrorism and urged nations to continue to assist in training its forces and supporting the AU peacekeeping contingent.
"The terrorists and pirates are now closely collaborating to wreak havoc; to instill fear, and to promote destabilisation and lawlessness on land and on the high seas," he said.
Somalia has not had an effective government since 1991 when warlords overthrew longtime dictator Mohamed Siad Barre and then turned on each other, plunging the country into chaos and anarchy.
The transitional government, established in 2004, and the AU peacekeeping force, have struggled to defend government buildings, the port and airport in the capital, Mogadishu, against an offensive by Shebab Islamic extremists.
Shebab, which has links to Al Qaeda, now controls much of central and southern Somalia and is increasingly seen as a regional threat.
Meanwhile, the waters around the Horn of Africa, especially off the Somali coast, have become a hub for piracy, making the busy shipping routes to the Suez Canal among the most dangerous in the world.
Backed by the United Nations, AMISOM is mandated by the African Union to support Somalia's transitional governmental structures, implement a national security plan, train the security forces, and assist in creating a secure environment for the delivery of humanitarian aid.
More than 30 African Union peacekeepers have been killed in the Somalia conflict since the mission began in 2007.
© 2010 AFP