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Sunday, March 29, 2009

Uganda Send More Troops to Somalia

Mar 29, 2009 - 9:10:08 AM

In the wake of the Uganda People’s Defence Forces (UPDF) withdrawal from a three-month operation in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Kampala has quietly deployed another 1,000 soldiers in conflict-ravaged Somalia, The EastAfrican has learnt.

Senior army officers in Kampala confirmed last week that at least 1,000 troops have been on Somali territory for over a week now, despite growing concerns that the presence in Somalia of Uganda’s army poses a serious terrorist danger to the country.

“We’ve completed deployment of another battalion. We now have two battalions standing in Somalia,” said General Aronda Nyakairima, UPDF Chief of Defence Forces.

Army spokesman Major Felix Kulayigye added that this is an “augmentation force” deployed at the request of the African Union.

In the same sprit, Burundi, the other country that has an AU peacekeeping mission in Somalia, will also send more troops to reinforce its contingent.

With 1,600 UPDF soldiers already in place, the new force brings to 2,600 the number of Ugandan troops in the Horn of Africa country.

But apart from being done swiftly — and without parliamentary approval — this recent deployment is surrounded by a number of other curious developments, top of which is the recent visit of new Somali President Sheikh Ahmed Sharif to Kampala, and more critically, the call ostensibly issued by terror mastermind Osama bin Laden to overthrow Sharif.

The death threat came just days after the Somali leader’s visit to Kampala, long suspected to be a target of Islamist terrorists because it is seen as an agent of Anglo-American interests in the Horn of Africa — Uganda was after all the first country to send troops to Somalia in 2007. The threats to Mr Sharif, and his allies should be a cause for alarm, but Gen Nyakairima says the army is unfazed.

“We have been hearing about bin Laden’s threats for a long time. He was living with (LRA leader) Joseph Kony in 1995 and 1996 in the Sudan. He will not stop us, because we have been invited by the international community and Africa union (AU).”

During Mr Sharif’s visit, it emerged that Uganda had been secretly training nearly 600 Somali nationals on Ugandan territory, under a programme jointly funded by the AU and Kampala. The trainees have passed out and are now deployed alongside the Ugandan troops in Somalia, sources said.
Apparently, bin Laden accuses Mr Sharif of taking inducements from the Americans in Nairobi.

Analysts say the Kampala visit was to persuade Mr Sharif to align himself with the Western agenda. A product of the Islamic courts, Mr Sharif is seen as a different kettle of fish from his “progressive” predecessor Abdullahi Yusuf, who was seen as more pro-West

Mr Yusuf was removed after he sacked his Prime Minister early this year, setting the stage for his own removal and the re-emergence of Mr Sharif, who as leader of the Islamic Courts Union that was responsible for the six-months administration that successfully restored calm to Mogadishu in 2007 before being thrown out by US-backed Ethiopian forces.

This is not the first time Uganda is training Somali troops, having earlier concluded training of another special unit of 100. Such actions are said to have annoyed radical Islamist al-Shabaab militia elements in Somalia, hence the concerns over terror attacks against Uganda.

For instance, early this month, a Russian-made private plane, an Ilyushin-76, plunged into Lake Victoria 10 kilometres south of Entebbe Airport, from where it had just taken off, killing all 11 people on board.

The plane was supposed to deliver “water purifiers” to the peacekeepers in Mogadishu, but its crash has since elicited loaded comments from government officials who said they “cannot rule out terrorism.”

Days after the crash, the Russian news agency ITAR-TASS quoted the plane’s owner as saying it had been hit by a rocket from a grenade launcher or a Stinger missile.

On board the plane were South African nationals, Ugandans, a Russian and a senior Burundi army officer who was returning to peacekeeping duties in Mogadishu. Only Burundi and Uganda have sent peacekeeping forces to Somalia.

But the army spokesman said the UPDF presence in Somalia cannot be linked with the plane crash until the black box and flight data are retrieved from the fuselage, which is still embedded in the mud of the lakebed.

“Do not link the two. The crash is an accident until the black box is found,” said Major Kulaigye. “This is not the first time terrorists have threatened this region; as a peacekeeping force, we are on the lookout.”

But a Muslim scholar Imam Kasozi said that by deploying more troops, Uganda was signalling that “we are now preparing for war” against al-Shabaab.

“Let’s not forget, we went into Somalia on behalf of the US, which two years ago paid Uganda $10 million to enable the troops to travel to Mogadishu. But two years later, is there any peace to keep in Mogadishu? No. It means they are now preparing for war.”

The UPDF says Uganda’s peacekeeping mission to Somalia has lost only seven soldiers since the first day of deployment in 2007.

A member of the African Union and the Inter Governmental Authority on Development, Uganda was the only country to send troops — even though more than six countries had committed to do so — raising questions over its motivation for rushing in where other AU member states feared to tread.
The answer came during President Sharif’s visit when Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni said, “You can’t see your neighbour in a problem and you remain silent.”

Mid this month, UPDF pulled out of Congo, where the army had been carrying out aerial and ground assaults since December 14, 2008 in pursuit of the Lord’s Resistance Army rebels

This appears reading to have freed up the extra UPDF troops for the AU mission. With its continuing focus on Somalia, Kampala is trying to consolidate its image as the region’s most forthright peacekeeper against all odds.

Original Source: The East African (Kenya)

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