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By Thokozani Mtshali
Johannesburg - South African Defence Minister Mosioua Lekota is expected to indicate this week whether South Africa can afford to send troops to Somalia as part of an African peacekeeping mission in that country.
This follows concerns in government circles that sending troops to Somalia to try to stabilise the fragile country after the fall of the Islamic Court Union (ICU) might cripple South Africa's defence budget.
The ICU had run Somalia for about six months. Its leaders appointed themselves the governors of areas where Somalia's interim government had no authority.
Deputy Foreign Affairs Minister Aziz Pahad told a press conference in Pretoria on Wednesday that Lekota had been studying these concerns and would give an advisory report to President Thabo Mbeki before the end of this week.
He said Lekota had consulted the South African military since the fighting, led by Ethiopian troops and culminating in the fall of the ICU, began about six weeks ago.
According to Pahad, Lekota's report to Mbeki will mainly be an assessment of the feasibility of sending troops to Somalia. It will also discuss the related resource implications given South Africa's involvement in other peace keeping missions on the continent.
South Africa is one of many African countries, including Nigeria and Tanzania, still considering the pros and cons of sending troops to Somalia. The deployment may overstretch their militaries.
South African troops are deployed in several countries, including Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo, as part of peacekeeping missions led by the United Nations and the African Union.
Pahad said the government shared AU concerns over the escalation of violence in Somalia and its increasing casualties.
He said the AU's approved plan for peacekeeping in Somalia entailed sending at least nine battalions comprising 800 troops in a bid to bring stability to the country. Somalia has been without a formal government for the past 16 years.
So far only Uganda has committed itself to sending over 1 000 soldiers to Somalia, but this too is pending approval by the Ugandan parliament.
Pahad said South Africa was optimistic that other UN-led missions to consolidate peace in the continent, such as those in the DRC and Burundi, appeared to be yielding positive results.