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African Union Team Visits Somalia Ahead of Peacekeeping Force

An African Union military delegation has arrived in Somalia for a three-day mission to assess security before the planned deployment of a peacekeeping force, an official said Sunday.

The eight-member team traveled to the capital, Mogadishu, a day after a top Islamic leader warned the deployment of a foreign peacekeeping force will only fuel growing insecurity in the anarchic nation.

They toured the airport, seaport and military camps and met with Ethiopian troops in the capital, said the city's mayor, Mohamoud Hassan. He said part of the mission was to see where African troops would stay.

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On Saturday, Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed, a top leader of the Islamic movement that was ousted last month, told The Associated Press that the proposed force would "not bring peace in Somalia."

Three battalions of peacekeepers from Uganda and Nigeria are ready to be deployed in Somalia and will be airlifted in as soon as possible, a senior AU official said last week.

The Islamic movement was ousted by Somalia's government with the help of Ethiopian military forces earlier this year after having taken over much of the country's south. But as Ethiopian forces withdraw fears are mounting that Somalia could again be plunged into anarchy.

Violence has been spiraling in the capital, where the Islamic movement has strong support. Sheik Ahmed, who spoke in a rare interview since fleeing Somalia and being taken into Kenyan protective custody, said support for the Islamic movement was growing because of the worsening security situation in Mogadishu, a city of 2 million people.

A senior police commander became the latest victim of the violence Saturday when he was shot dead by unknown gunmen on a public minibus.

The African Union was pressing ahead with its peacekeeping mission to Somalia despite securing only half the 8,000 troops needed at a key summit of African leaders that ended Tuesday.

The AU officials, led by a Ugandan general, also traveled to Baidoa, a provincial farming town where the government is based, and are expected to hold talks with the president and prime minister on when the peacekeeping force would arrive.

On Friday, the U.N. Security Council renewed its support for the African Union's decision to deploy peacekeepers in Somalia, stressing that such a force was needed to help restore peace and stability.

Many Somalis are deeply distrustful of a peacekeeping mission after a disastrous U.N.-led mission in the 1990s.

The country has not had a functioning government since clan-based warlords toppled dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991 and then turned on one another, sinking the Horn of Africa nation of 7 million people into chaos.

The Islamic movement was credited with restoring order that the transitional government, which was set up in 2004, failed to do. But the U.S. accused it of harboring Al Qaeda suspects.

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