By EDITH M. LEDERER
2009-05-16 03:22 AM
A statement approved by all 15 council members and read at a formal meeting demanded that opposition groups immediately end their offensive, renounce violence and join reconciliation efforts.
Hundreds of foreigners fighting alongside Somali Islamic insurgents have driven this week's fierce battles against government forces, and concern is mounting that the government might fall. Observers fear that if the al-Qaida linked insurgents seize the capital, Mogadishu, they will gain a safe haven on the Horn of Africa.
The council "condemns the recent renewal in fighting led by al-Shabaab and other extremists, which constitutes an attempt to remove (the) legitimate authority by force," the statement said.
Al-Shabaab, which the U.S. considers a terrorist group, is seeking to overthrow the Western-backed government and establish an Islamic state in Somalia.
The Security Council expressed concern at reports that neighboring Eritrea has supplied arms to opponents of the government in violation of a U.N. arms embargo and called on the U.N. committee monitoring the sanctions to investigate.
The council expressed concern at the loss of life and the worsening humanitarian situation resulting from the renewed fighting, which has killed more than 100 people and forced thousands to flee their homes. It called on all parties to ensure the security of civilians, humanitarian workers, and members of the small African Union peackeeping force in the capital.
Somalia has not had a functioning government since the ouster of a longtime dictator in 1991 and is riven by fighting among clan warlords and an Islamist insurgency that has killed thousands of civilians and sent hundreds of thousands fleeing for their lives. Nearly half its population of 7 million is dependent on aid, and piracy has become rampant.
On Wednesday, U.N. political chief B. Lynn Pascoe told the council that despite the upsurge in fighting, Somalia has the best chance in two decades to bring peace and stability to its long-suffering people.
He said the latest violence is a response to the new government's success in reaching out to opposition groups to try to achieve a lasting political settlement. This has threatened radical opposition groups which have responded by attempting to overthrow the government, he said.
Pascoe said the broad-based government led by President Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed, who was elected in January, enjoys support from large segments of the Somali population and neighboring states.
He urged the international community to help the government establish authority throughout the country and build security and legal institutions _ an appeal backed by the Security Council on Friday.
The council also strongly backed the political process the government is pursuing to reach a lasting political solution.
"The ongoing attempts to take power by force can only delay the political process and prolong the suffering of the Somali people," the council statement said.