Refugee agency chief calls for UN peacekeeping force in Somalia

The United Nations' High Commissioner for Refugees called Friday for the deployment of an international peacekeeping force in Somalia to help solve what he called "probably the most dramatic humanitarian crisis" in modern times, reported dpa.

"It is important that the resources are found for an international force to stabilize the country, as recently requested by the Djibouti peace accord," Antonio Guterres told reporters in Nairobi.

"The international community must engage much more in helping Somalis create the conditions for peace," he added.

An agreement between Somalia's transitional government and some moderate opposition leaders in early June called for a ceasefire to be followed by the deployment of United Nations' peacekeepers.

The peace deal specifies that Ethiopian troops should leave within 120 days of the ceasefire coming into effect provided that sufficient blue helmets have been deployed to relieve an overwhelmed and undermanned African Union force.

The UN has said it would consider sending in forces if there is an improvement in security, but so far commitment to an international force seems in short supply.

The deal does not embrace all of the warring parties and significantly does not include the Islamic insurgent group Al- Shabaab.

Violence has continued unabated since the deal was signed and civilians, who are often caught in the crossfire, continue to flee in numbers.

The Horn of Africa nation has been in a state of anarchy since the overthrow of dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991.

Fighting intensified after transitional federal government troops and their Ethiopian allies wrested control of Mogadishu from the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC).

The UIC brought relative order during its six months in control in 2006.

Al-Shabaab, the UIC's armed wing, has been waging a guerrilla war ever since and hundreds of thousands have fled the vicious fighting in Mogadishu.

UNHCR says that 850,000 civilians have fled the Somali capital since February 2007, some 50,000 of them coming in the last three months alone.

Over one million people are believed to be internally displaced in Somalia. The World Food Programme has warned that some 3.5 million Somalis could be dependent on food aid by the end of the year as the conflict, drought and rising food prices bite.

Many refugees have fled across the border, where they are being housed at the Dadaab refugee camp in north-east Kenya.

Guterres, who chose to celebrate World Refugee Day with a trip to the camp, said that Kenya would continue to accept refugees and that plans were afoot to expand capacity at the camp, which is bursting at the seams with 200,000 occupants.

However, Guterres said that there was no humanitarian solution to the problem and that a political solution needed to be found urgently.

"All our eggs should be put in the same basket - the basket of the Somali peace process," he said. "We need the will of all Somalis and the support of the international community."

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