The Ugandan and Sudanese troops will be deployed in the towns of Baidoa and Jowhar, from where the government will operate temporarily because the Somali capital is unsafe, AU's Said Djinnit said on Thursday.

The regional force will operate for six to nine months at a cost of $102 million. It will then be replaced by AU peacekeepers, Djinnit said after a meeting of the organisation's Peace and Security Council.

"We should give peace a chance. The international community needs to support the Somalis," Djinnit said.

In an AU report obtained by journalists, officials propose that the initial force go to Somalia two weeks before the government's own return to the country and stay in Somalia to protect the administration, secure supply routes and carry out reconnaissance missions.

Relocation planned

Somalia's Prime Minister Ali Mohamed Gedi said on the sidelines of the meeting that his government will relocate to Somalia by month's end and the proposed peacekeeping force will join them there.

"We think we can bring stabilisation to Somalia and pacification within nine months," Gedi said.

AU Commissioner Konare (L)
wants AU to flex its muscle

Somalia has been without a central government since clan-based warlords overthrew dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991. Warlords then turned on each other, plunging the Horn of Africa nation of seven million into anarchy.

Somalia's government has been based in neighbouring Kenya since it was formed in 2004 because the capital, Mogadishu, is considered unsafe. It is opposed by Muslim extremists and some of the dozens of warlords in the country.

On Wednesday, Somalia's parliament, sitting in Kenya, ratified the government's decision to allow an Ugandan-Sudanese peacekeeping force into Somalia, and its plans to relocate to two Somali towns near Mogadishu by 31 May.

Small opposition

Parliament's vote paved the way for peacekeepers to enter Somalia because all major government decisions have to be ratified by parliament before they can be acted on. A small section of Somali society is opposed to any peacekeepers entering the nation.

"We think we can bring stabilisation to Somalia and pacification within nine months"

Ali Mohamed Gedi,
Somali Prime Minister

Efforts to return to Somalia have been undermined by government divisions over the proposed participation of peacekeepers from neighbouring Ethiopia.

Ethiopia supported Somali factions with money and weapons in the civil war, and some Somali lawmakers fear its troops could seek to advance Ethiopian interests if deployed in the country.

Somalis also remember the war they lost in 1977 over control of Ethiopia's southeastern Ogaden region, largely inhabited by ethnic Somalis. The Somali army never recovered from the defeat, a fact that eventually helped warlords overthrow Barre in 1991.