updated 2/20/2007 6:48:07 PM ET 2007-02-20T23:48:07

The U.N. Security Council voted unanimously Tuesday to authorize an African Union force to help stabilize Somalia over the next six months, setting the stage for U.N. peacekeepers to take over the long-term job of bringing peace to the Horn of Africa nation.

The resolution adopted by the council urges the 53 African nations to contribute troops to the 8,000-strong force and urges other U.N. member states to provide financial support and any needed personnel, equipment and services.

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 poverty-stricken nation of 7 million people into chaos.

The rout in December of the Islamic fundamentalist movement that controlled most of Somalia by Somali government troops and Ethiopian soldiers allowed the country’s weak U.N.-backed transitional government to enter the capital, Mogadishu, for the first time since it was established in 2004. But escalating violence threatens to plunge Somalia back into anarchy and chaos.

The latest fighting has also raised questions about the deployment of the AU force, whose first troops — a small Burundian advance team — were scheduled to be on the ground as early as Friday. Uganda canceled a Wednesday news conference without explanation at which it had planned to announce a date for the deployment of its troops.

Nigerian troops expected mid-April
Nigeria, however, reiterated its commitment to establishing stability in Somalia, saying Tuesday that its 850-troop contribution to the peacekeeping force should arrive in the Horn of Africa nation by mid-April.

The resolution adopted Tuesday noted the Aug. 19 communique of the African Union Peace and Security Council stating that the AU will deploy a mission to Somalia for six months to help stabilize Somalia which “will evolve into a United Nations operation that will support the long-term stabilization and post-conflict restoration of Somalia.”

It asks Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to send a technical assessment mission to AU headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and to Somalia as soon as possible to report on the political and security situation “and the possibility of a U.N. peacekeeping operation following the AU’s deployment.” It asked Ban for a report in 60 days.

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