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U.S. Somalia peacekeeping idea hits resistance at U.N.

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The U.N. chief and France on Wednesday cast doubt on U.S. calls to authorize a U.N. peacekeeping force for Somalia quickly, saying the situation was too dangerous for blue helmets.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said on Tuesday for the first time that the U.N. should deploy peacekeepers in the unstable country in the Horn of Africa. Washington will push for a Security Council authorizing resolution by the year’s end.

But U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said, “the situation is not ripe, the conditions are not favorable ... If there is no peace to keep, peacekeeping operations are not supposed to be there.”

Instead, Ban suggested bolstering an African Union force, known as AMISOM, that is supposed help Somalis themselves to restore security but has so far proved ineffectual.

The Security Council on Tuesday authorized countries fighting piracy off the Somali coast to take action inside the country and in its airspace, with consent of the government.

France’s U.N. Ambassador Jean-Maurice Ripert, asked if Rice’s proposal was realistic, said: “No, it is not ... We think it’s not feasible and it’s not desirable.”

The situation had to be stabilized before U.N. peacekeepers could be deployed, Ripert said.

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Council members agree they must tackle violence, chaos and humanitarian catastrophe in Somalia, Ripert said. But they disagree on how to act.

Islamists control most of southern Somalia, feuding clan militias hold sway elsewhere, and Ethiopian troops backing the weak government plan to pull out.

A previous attempt by outside powers to help end starvation in Somalia ended badly. Eighteen U.S. soldiers died and 73 were wounded in the “Battle of Mogadishu” on October 3 and 4, 1993.

The battle, which inspired the film “Black Hawk Down, marked the beginning of the end for a U.S.-U.N. peacekeeping force that left in 1995.

Ban told the Security Council last month around 10,000 highly skilled troops would be needed to stabilize Somalia. After that, a U.N. peacekeeping force of some 22,500 troops would be deployed, along with additional police and civilians.

But after contacting some 50 countries, Ban said none had volunteered to lead a stabilization force and only one or two would be willing to provide troops.

A video grab from an undated television footage shows pirates walking on the beach in the town of Eyl in the north of Somalia. The United Nations should send peacekeepers to Somalia urgently to stop the strife that is fuelling piracy and is being aggravated by feuding politicians, the African Union's top diplomat said on November 20, 2008. REUTERS/Reuters TV

The United States has offered funding, training, equipment, airlifts and logistics -- but no troops.

Rice said some African states were ready to send troops. U.N. diplomats say Washington has proposed converting AMISOM to a U.N. force while training and equipping more troops from Burundi and Uganda, which already have 3,200 soldiers there.

But one U.N official said they would lack the skills, air support and intelligence capability needed to secure Mogadishu.

“You need peace enforcers, not peacekeepers,” he said.

Editing by Eric Walsh