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First African Union Peacekeepers Arrive in Somalia

01 March 2007

Officials in Somalia say the first members of an African Union peacekeeping force have arrived.

Police and customs officials say about 30 Ugandan officers Thursday flew into Baidoa, the base of Somalia's transitional government.

Uganda has pledged 1,500 soldiers for the proposed 8,000-member force.

The African force will replace Ethiopian soldiers who helped the Somali government defeat a rival Islamist movement in December.

Meanwhile, Somalia's interim president, Abdullahi Yusuf, says a national reconcilation conference will begin April 16.

Mr. Yusuf told parliament Thursday the conference will have 3,000 participants and take place in the capital, Mogadishu.

Somalia has been plagued with fighting between various clans, militias and warlords since the last central government was toppled in 1991.

The current government has struggled to contain persistent violence in the capital. In the latest incident, gunmen tried to kill the head of Mogadishu's seaport Thursday. The attack sparked a gunfight that killed two people.

Officials blame the violence on remnants of the Islamist movement. Islamist leaders have vowed to fight on against the government and any peacekeepers who come to Somalia.

African nations have so far pledged about half of the 8,000 troops the A.U. hopes to gather for the peacekeeping mission.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP and Reuters.

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