The Security Council on Thursday reviewed options for increased UN involvement in strife-torn Somalia but key members ruled out an early deployment of a full-fledged peacekeeping force.
The 15-member body heard a briefing from the UN special envoy to the country, Ahmedou Ould Abdallah, who told reporters afterwards that "there is renewed interest in Somalia," a country wracked by civil war for the past 17 years.
"Somalia has been neglected for a long time," he told reporters, adding that Somalis "are still paying" for the failure of the UN peace mission during the 1990s.
Thursday's council discussions focused on four scenarios laid out by UN chief Ban Ki-moon in his latest report on the volatile Horn of Africa country.
They were worked out by UN planners who sent a fact-finding team to look at alternatives to the African Union force now in Ethiopia (AMISOM) and to the Ethiopian troops propping up the Somali government in its battle with Islamist insurgents.
Ould Abdallah said the UN Department of Peace Operation planned to send a new mission to Somalia next month.
Under consideration are relocating Nairobi-based UN personnel dealing with Somalia to Mogadishu, boosting the UN presence in Mogadishu and other areas or south and central Somalia or deploying up to 28,500 UN troops and police provided there is "a viable and inclusive political process and an agreement on the cessation of hostilities."
Another option would involve sending "an impartial stabilization force formed by a coalition of willing states of about 8,000 highly trained and capable troops, together with police officers," before political and security agreements have been finalized ahead of a withdrawal of Ethiopian troops.
"We are going to examine those options," US Ambassador to the UN Zalmay Khalilzad told reporters.
He said it was appropriate for the council to consider "an enhanced UN presence" that might do more "in terms of peacekeeping and to support the African forces that are there."
But, he added, "we are not close to deploying a peacekeeping force."
While noting that Somalia "has been a failed state for 17 years," British Ambassador John Sawers said there was "now an opportunity to move forward."
But "until there is further progress on the political front, it is difficult to see scope for a fully-fledged peacekeeping force," he added. "The stages set out in the secretary general's report realistically match what will be required as the international community steps up its engagement."
Ethiopian troops came to the transitional Somali government's rescue in 2006 and defeated an Islamist militia that briefly controlled large parts of the country.
Remnants of the militia have since reverted to guerrilla tactics, launching almost daily hit-and-run attacks against government targets in Mogadishu.
Last month, the UN Security Council voted to extend for another six months the mandate of AMISOM.
AMISOM, which currently consists of roughly 2,300 troops from Uganda and Burundi, according to Ban, is ultimately to number around 8,000 soldiers tasked with stabilizing Somalia.
Thursday, six people were killed in clashes between Somali soldiers and insurgents in southern Mogadishu, residents said.
Eleven others were wounded in the clashes that erupted when insurgents attacked soldiers who were attempting to loot a grocery in Hawlwadag district, they added.