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UN: Not best time for Somalia mission

THE United Nations Security Council does not think conditions are yet right to send a peacekeeping force to Somalia but will step up support for African Union soldiers there, a senior Western envoy said yesterday.

The Council, which has long been urged by African states to send blue-helmets to the turbulent Horn of Africa country, promised early this year to decide by June 1 whether to do so.

But ahead of an annual meeting between the Council and the African Union, Britain's UN Ambassador John Sawers said: "We are still taking a staged approach toward UN peacekeeping. The conditions on the ground don't exist at the moment."

Battles between al Shabaab militants and pro-government fighters have killed at least 139 people and sent some 27,000 fleeing the Somali capital Mogadishu in the past week or so.

Some Western intelligence agencies fear Somalia, with its central government struggling against the Islamist insurgents, could become an African beach-head for al Qaida-style militants.

The UN special envoy to Somalia said on Friday up to 300 foreign fighters had joined the insurgents, and the Security Council voiced concern over reports that Eritrea has been arming the militants. Eritrea called this "totally false."

Sawers said a resolution to be considered in New York later this month would extend an existing support package for the African Union force, known as AMISOM, for eight months.


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