UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
SOMALIA: Ugandan peacekeepers ready to deploy in Somalia
KAMPALA, 14 Feb 2007 (IRIN) - The first batch of Ugandan troops is expected in Somalia within a week as part of an African peace-support mission after the parliament voted in favour of sending soldiers to support efforts to restore stability in the strife-torn Horn of Africa country, officials said.
The 1,500 Ugandan soldiers will be part of a 8,000-strong force that the African Union (AU) and the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) want deployed in Somalia to help the fledgling Transitional Federal Government (TFG) restore law and order.
"The first contingent will start deployment early next week," said Capt Paddy Ankunda, spokesman for the Ugandan army.
The Minister for Defence, Ruth Nankabirwa, said the AU mission would be led by Maj-Gen Levi Karuhanga of Uganda, who is at the pan-African body's headquarters in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, to present his operation and deployment plan to the AU Peace and Security Council.
The AU force is expected to replace Ethiopian troops, who went into Somalia in December 2006 and helped the TFG defeat the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC), whose forces had seized control of most the country and were undermining the limited authority of the interim government set up in 2004 after reconciliation talks in neighbouring Kenya.
"In order to avoid a vacuum as Ethiopian troops withdraw, forces from other contributing countries should follow immediately," said Rose Namayanja, head of the defence and internal affairs committee of the Ugandan parliament.
In their resolution, members of the Ugandan parliament urged their counterparts in Somalia to embark on what they described as an "acceptable process of inclusive dialogue and reconciliation. The Union of Islamic Courts should be involved in this dialogue," they said.
The aim of sending Ugandan troops to Somalia for six months was to "essentially contribute to the initial stabilisation phase of Somalia with a clear understanding that the mission will evolve into a United Nations operation that will support the long-term stabilisation and post-conflict reconstruction of Somalia", they said.
According to Namayanja, the Ugandan force has been undergoing special training in readiness for its peacekeeping role. The training included some basics in Somali culture and language. The troops will remain subject to Ugandan law in the event that any of them commit an offence.
Somalia's interim government welcomed Uganda decision to contribute troops to the peace-support mission.
"We are grateful to the president, the government and the people of Uganda for their support. I hope that the troops will be deployed very soon," said Salad Ali Jeele, Somalia's deputy defence minister.
A member of Somali civil society, however, expressed doubt that the Ugandans would be well received by the Somali people and whether their presence would make a difference to the chaotic situation in the country. "I don't think anyone will welcome them with flowers," said the source, who asked not to be named.
"They are walking into a war-zone," he added.
In a demonstration against the deployment of foreign peacekeepers in the Somali capital, Mogadishu, on 9 February, a hooded man calling himself Abdirazak shouted at protesters: "We are the 'Somali People's Resistance Movement’. We are warning other African countries trying to send troops to Somalia to back off or here will be their graveyard."
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