updated 12/6/2006 7:29:54 PM ET 2006-12-07T00:29:54

The U.N. Security Council authorized an African force to protect Somalia's weak government against an increasingly powerful Islamic militia, hoping to restore peace and avert a broader conflict in the region.

The U.S. resolution, co-sponsored by the council's African members, partially lifts an arms embargo on Somalia so the regional force can be supplied with weapons and military equipment and train the government's security forces. At the same time, it threatens targeted sanctions against others violating the arms embargo.

The resolution approved on Wednesday urged the Islamic militants, who have taken control of the capital and most of southern Somalia since June, to stop any further military expansion and join the transitional government in talks to achieve a cease-fire and political settlement in the country which has not had an effective central government since 1991.

It threatened Security Council action against those who block peace efforts or attempt to overthrow the government. No measures were mentioned, but they could include targeted sanctions against specific individuals as well.

Arms embargo in place since 1992
The arms embargo was imposed in 1992, a year after warlords overthrew dictator Mohamed Siad Barre and then turned on one another. A government was formed with the help of the U.N. two years ago, but has struggled to assert its authority against the Islamic militants.

Critics of the resolution, including some non-governmental organizations, accuse the Security Council of taking sides in supporting the transitional government and argue that it will only inflame tensions with the Islamic militia known as the Union of Islamic Courts.

U.S. Ambassador John Bolton said the United States, like many other countries, is gravely concerned about the deteriorating security situation in Somalia and the possibility of a wider regional conflict, and views a regional force "as a key element in preventing conflict."

"I think we're siding with the people of Somalia who definitely need relief from the conflict that's been going on for far too long," he said.

Somalia's deputy U.N. ambassador Idd Bedel Mohamed thanked the U.S. and Bolton, especially, for taking the initiative to deploy a force.

‘To support the legitimate government’
"The primary purpose of this resolution is to support the legitimate government in Somalia so it can stabilize the situation in that country," he told reporters after the vote.

The Somali government is willing to negotiate with the Islamic Courts "as long as they disown the military means and (stop) trying to overthrow the legitimate government in Somalia by force, and ... make sure that Somalia shall not become a haven for international terrorism," he said.

There are fears that Somalia could become a proxy battleground for Ethiopia and Eritrea, which fought a border war in 1998-2000.

A confidential U.N. report obtained recently by The Associated Press said 6,000-8,000 Ethiopian troops were in Somalia or along the border, supporting the transitional government. It also said 2,000 soldiers from Eritrea were inside Somalia, supporting the Islamic militia — which Eritrea denies. Mohamed insisted only a small number of Ethiopians are training its security forces.

Advancing a political solution
Bolton said the U.S. views the regional force "as a critical element" in promoting dialogue between the government and the Islamic Courts and advancing a cease-fire and a political solution.

"It will also help to create the conditions for Ethiopian and Eritrean disengagement from Somalia," he said.

The resolution authorizes the seven-nation regional group, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development known as IGAD, and members of the African Union to establish "a protection and training mission in Somalia" for an initial period of six months.

The resolution bans countries bordering Somalia from sending soldiers _ a provision demanded by European members of the Security Council who want to ensure that the force's aim is to promote peace.

The ban would prohibit participation in the force by troops from Ethiopia, Djibouti, and Kenya _ but not Uganda, which is the only country thus far to volunteer troops.

Council diplomats said IGAD envisions a force of eight battalions, each with 700 to 800 troops, but only two would be deployed in the first phase.

"For years now, this country has felt abandoned by the international community," said Ambassador Basile Ikouebe of the Republic of Congo, which currently holds the African Union presidency.

"The purpose has been and remains the restoration of peace in Somalia, to assist in restoring dialogue among all parties, to support commitments already undertaken...," he said. "We invite all states, in particular neighboring countries, to strictly respect this resolution and to respect the arms embargo."

© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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