29/06/07 (B402) BBC / Le Premier Ministre Somalien réclame une force de l’ONU pour maintenir la Paix dans son Pays. Somali PM wants UN peacekeepers (En Anglais – Info lectrice)

The prime minister of war-torn Somalia has asked for UN peacekeepers to take over from the African Union mission.

"Failure to act at this critical period will be very costly in the future," Ali Mohamed Ghedi told the UN Security Council, AP news agency reports.

But diplomats say council members were cautious about the proposal, wanting first to see progress through the reconciliation summit due next month.

Only 1,600 troops of a proposed 8,000-strong AU force are in Somalia.

There are deadly attacks on civilians, government officials and Ethiopian troops almost every day in the capital, Mogadishu.

Islamists and gunmen from the Hawiye clan – the largest in Mogadishu – are believed to be responsible.

You can’t put peacekeeping troops in if there’s no peace to keep, that’s the reality

Ethiopian troops are also in the country to back government troops.

Together they ousted the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC), the Islamist group that controlled most of Somalia for six months last year, in December.

A national reconciliation conference has been delayed several times and Islamist leaders and a growing number of other Somali groups say they will not take part in any peace negotiations until the Ethiopians leave their country.

‘Not fair’

The UK’s UN ambassador said Emyr Jones Parry said the reconciliation conference was key to finding peace in Somalia.

"There’s a window of opportunity to move forward on the political [front] and my worry is if that isn’t grasped vigorously enough, the country will spiral down into further conflict and chaos," he told reporters.

"We can only do so much. You can’t put peacekeeping troops in if there’s no peace to keep, that’s the reality," he said.

Mr Ghedi said his government was fully committed to the reconciliation conference.

And he agreed with Mr Jones Parry that it was important to reinforce AU troops on the ground, but voiced his disappointment that UN troops were not in the offing.

"It’s not fair to say: ‘Make peace and I will come and keep it,’" he told reporters after the UN Security Council session.

Nigeria, Burundi and Ghana have all promised to contribute to the AU force which began its deployment in March with the arrival of some 1,600 Ugandan soldiers.

Last week, the authorities in Mogadishu ordered a night-time curfew in the capital in order to end a wave of violence.

The UN refugee agency say more than 3,500 people have fled the city this month amid an escalation of attacks.

It says only 123,000 of the estimated 401,000 civilians who fled the heavy fighting that raged in Mogadishu between February and May have returned to the capital.

Meanwhile, Somali President Abdullahi Yusuf has ordered the release of 200 prisoners being held in the central jail in Mogadishu.

Central prison governor General Abdulahi Moallin Ali told the BBC he had received orders to free the prisoners, who had been rounded up after the transitional government took control of the capital at the end of last year.

No explanation has so far been offered for the decision.