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World News

Indonesia willing to lead Somalia force-U.N. official

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - Indonesia has offered to spearhead U.N. peacekeeping in fellow Muslim country Somalia, but a mission is too risky for now as the Somali government battles Islamist rebels, a U.N. official said on Wednesday.

Indonesia is home to the world’s largest Muslim population, and United Nations officials have long insisted a Muslim country should be in charge of any U.N. force sent to the lawless, volatile state in the Horn of Africa.

Indonesia has informed the United Nations “that it would be ready to provide troops and to take on a lead role in a U.N. peacekeeping operation in Somalia,” U.N. peacekeeping chief Alain Le Roy told the 15-nation Security Council.

Two other heavily Muslim nations, Pakistan and Bangladesh, have also pledged military support for an eventual mission, while Uruguay has pledged military observers, he added.

Le Roy said however a peacekeeping mission in Somalia would be “a high-risk operation” that would most likely fail unless security improves first.

Somalia has been a byword for anarchy since a dictatorship was overthrown in 1991. Currently, large parts of south and central Somalia are under the control of hardline al Shabaab insurgents and allied Islamist fighters.

Years of conflict in Somalia have confounded 15 attempts to establish a central government, killed tens of thousands, displaced millions and created a security vacuum that has spawned piracy and other criminal activity.

Since the weekend, the capital Mogadishu has been rocked by mortar and machine gun fire as Islamist rebels try to topple President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed’s government. The violence has killed at least 113 civilians, and thousands have fled.

The Security Council, long under pressure from African states to send a U.N. force to Somalia, has repeatedly delayed deciding and is due to consider the matter again by June 1.

Somali Foreign Minister Mohamed Abdullahi Omaar voiced frustration.

“We ask for your assistance as you have pledged to give us the resources, the support, and the partnership ... so that the turmoil in Somalia both on land and in the international waters can be addressed,” he said.

Le Roy recommended boosting aid for African Union peacekeepers in Somalia and gradually phasing in a direct U.N. presence as security conditions improve -- a tack diplomats say is in line with U.S. President Barack Obama’s thinking.

Editing by Simon Gardner

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