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African Union Peacekeepers Take Up Duties in Somalia

02 May 2007

In the Somali capital, Mogadishu, several days of calm have allowed some African Union peacekeepers from Uganda to move out of their barracks for the first time since their arrival in March. From Mogadishu, VOA Correspondent Alisha Ryu has this report.

African Union troops in white armored personnel carriers rumbled through neighborhoods near the Mogadishu Airport Wednesday morning, giving many Somalis their first glimpse of the 1,400 Ugandan peacekeepers.

Some of the peacekeepers were reported sent to the outskirts of the city to protect campsites of tens of thousands of Somalis displaced during three months of vicious fighting between Somali insurgents and Ethiopian troops, who are backing the transitional government.

Other peacekeepers remained on stand-by inside a dilapidated compound in a strategic area of Mogadishu, known as Kilometer Four.

The troop commander in the area, Lieutenant Michael Okelokengo, tells VOA that because the peacekeepers are still assessing the security situation after clashes in Mogadishu ended five days ago, his men have not yet conducted extensive patrols in the city.

"At the moment, we do not go much into patrols because of the situation as it used to be," he said. We just do our observations and at times, small patrols."

A European Union security advisor recently criticized the Ugandan peacekeepers for failing to act in preventing the deaths of nearly 1,500 Somali civilians in the worst fighting the capital has seen in nearly two decades.

But supporters say the peacekeepers had little chance to intervene because they, too, have been the target of near daily attacks since they arrived in Mogadishu two months ago.

Anti-Ethiopian and anti-government insurgents, including Islamist fighters, welcomed the Ugandans with a mortar barrage. Continuing attacks forced the peacekeepers to largely confine themselves to the area around the airport.

The Ugandan troops, who have a six-month mandate, expect at least 6,500 more peacekeepers from several African Union member states to back them up.

But those troops have not arrived, placing most of the burden of securing Mogadishu on Ethiopian troops, whose mandate is to protect the transitional government. They are unlikely to withdraw from Somalia until the African Union peacekeepers are fully deployed.

On Monday, a top Ugandan commander cautioned the Somali government against declaring victory over the insurgents. He says they have merely gone into hiding and have not been defeated.

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