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Ugandan Peacekeepers Deny Somali Islamist Claims of Attack

By Alisha Ryu
26 December 2007

The Ugandan spokesman for the African Union peacekeeping force in Mogadishu, Somalia is denying radical Islamists' claim that they killed three peacekeepers last week during a late-night attack on the Ugandan base at the city's main airport. VOA correspondent Alisha Ryu has more from our East Africa Bureau in Nairobi.

The spokesman for the African Union peacekeepers, Ugandan army Captain Paddy Ankunda tells VOA that he is baffled by the claim, which was recently posted on a pro-Islamist Somali-language Internet Web site.

The report says that last Tuesday, an unknown number of heavily-armed fighters belonging to a radical Somali Islamic group called the Shabab launched a well-coordinated attack that killed three Ugandan peacekeepers.

The report claims that Shabab fighters briefly chased the Ugandans out of the airport before retreating after a 45-minute gun-battle with the peacekeepers.

Captain Ankunda, who arrived in the volatile capital in March with a vanguard force of 1,600 Ugandan peacekeepers, says the attack never took place.

"There was no battle of that nature at the airport and all of our soldiers are okay. Our forces have been in charge of the airport since we deployed here. The Shabab have not, at any point, taken it over," said Ankunda.

Fears of insurgent attacks against the AU peacekeeping force in Mogadishu have heightened since last month, when the al-Qaida-trained founder of the Shabab, Adan Hashi Ayro urged his fighters to wage a holy war against Ugandan troops in the capital. He also warned other African Union countries not to send their troops to Somalia.

Ayro said AU peacekeepers were a legitimate target because they were no different than Ethiopian troops, who helped Somalia's secular interim government seize power from the country's Islamist movement nearly a year ago. Since then, Ethiopia's large military presence in the country has sparked an Islamist-led insurgency that now appears to be spreading outside Mogadishu.

Attacks against Ethiopian troops, government officials, police, and judges have increased in recent weeks, especially around the town of Baidoa, 250 kilometers west of the capital, where the Somali parliament is headquartered. Last week, the governor of Galgadud region in the central part of the country went into hiding after he received death threats from Islamist insurgents.

Despite the threat by the Shabab, the central African country of Burundi sent an advance team of about 100 peacekeepers to Somalia on Sunday to prepare the way for the eventual arrival of some 1,700 Burundian troops.

Burundi is among several African countries that had long pledged to contribute troops to the Somali mission, which had envisioned a force of 8,000 peacekeepers.

Officials in Burundi blamed financial and logistical problems for delaying troop deployment. But they say they now expect all of their soldiers to be on the ground in a few weeks.

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