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SOMALIA: 'We'll fight back if attacked,' AU troops say

ADDIS ABABA, 7 March 2007 (IRIN) - Peacekeepers deployed by the African Union (AU) to Mogadishu, Somalia's capital, will fight back if they are attacked by the insurgents who launched strikes near the airport on Tuesday, the spokesman for the AU Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), Assane Ba, said.

"The attacks could force a review [of operations], but right now getting the troops in is not the problem," Ba said in Addis Ababa, the Ethiopian capital. About “350 Ugandan troops arrived on Tuesday and we expect more to be deployed in the next few days".

Noting that Tuesday's mortar attacks at the airport may be designed to force a review of deployment strategies for the AU forces, Ba told IRIN that, so far, plans were going ahead as agreed with the countries providing troops.

Uganda is due to deploy 1,600 troops to Somalia, a country that has been lawless for at least 15 years. Ba said Burundi had promised between 1,500 and 1,600 soldiers; Nigeria 850; Ghana 350; and Malawi an unknown number. Algeria is helping to airlift the Ugandans while the United States is providing cash and logistics to Uganda, and France will help the Burundians.

Fighting erupted on Tuesday in Mogadishu as mortar bombs hit the airport shortly after the arrival of the Ugandan troops when insurgents clashed with Ethiopian-backed Somali government troops.

"Eight mortar bombs landed at the airport as a welcoming ceremony for the Ugandans was under way," a local journalist, who requested anonymity, told IRIN. "At around 1pm local time [10am GMT], gunmen clashed with Ethiopian troops in the Shirkole area [south] of Mogadishu after they tried to expand their area of control. The fighting was one of the most intense between the two sides and continued till 5pm," he added.

The journalist said at least six people were killed in the fighting and more than 20 wounded. However, medical sources said the death toll could be "higher, given the fact that many people are buried immediately and are not recorded in hospitals".

According to the medical source, most of the victims were civilians caught in the crossfire.

Hassan Muhammad, a resident of Shirkole, said the area was still tense on Wednesday and "many residents have left their homes since yesterday. We are still not sure what will happen next," Muhammad said.

Many residents have been leaving the city to escape the daily exchange of mortars and artillery between the Ethiopian-backed government forces and insurgents. Civil society groups estimate that since January, between 3,000 and 5,000 families (18,000 to 30,000 people) have left Mogadishu.

"We are using a different game plan from that of Darfur [western Sudan, where the AU has 7,000 troops]," Ba said. "The AU is providing guidelines and has signed agreements with troop-contributing countries to reimburse US$500 per soldier per month. But the countries are responsible for their own command structures and deployment."

Explaining the mandate of the peacekeeping force in Somalia, Ba said the troops would assist the Somali people to achieve dialogue and to strengthen the transitional government.

"If the Transitional Federal Government is strengthened with the new dynamic, then we need to help them. We will be dealing with a state," he said.




Copyright © IRIN 2007
This material comes to you via IRIN, the humanitarian news and analysis service of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. The opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the United Nations or its Member States.
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