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Sunday, December 23, 2007

Burundi PeaceKeepers in Somalia

By Aweys Yusuf and Abdi Sheikh

MOGADISHU (Reuters) - A first contingent of 100 peacekeepers from Burundi deployed in the Somali capital Mogadishu on Sunday, hours after fighting between Islamist rebels and government forces killed at least four people.

The arrival of the Burundian soldiers in the rubble-strewn city marked the first phase of long-delayed support for 1,600 Ugandan troops who began work in March as the vanguard of a planned 8,000-strong African Union (AU) mission.

"One hundred peacekeepers from Burundi have just landed here," Captain Paddy Ankunda, the AU force spokesman, told Reuters at Mogadishu's heavily guarded international airport.

Burundi's government had pledged to send about 1,700 troops to Somalia's capital. They were meant to arrive in July, but their deployment was repeatedly delayed.

In Burundi's capital, Bujumbura, an army spokesman said the rest of the contingent of two battalions of 850 soldiers each should be on the ground within the next two weeks.

"The team went to prepare the ground for the rest of the troops," Colonel Adolphe Manirakiza told Reuters.

Without support, the Ugandans have been restricted to guarding Mogadishu's sea and air ports and presidential palace, as well as providing security for top government officials.

Fierce battles broke out overnight in northern neighbourhoods of the city as Islamist-led insurgents attacked government security forces and their Ethiopian allies.

The Rest @ Reuters Africa

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