Tuesday, July 27, 2010

African Union Prevaricates on Somalia Peacekeeping Force

African Union prevaricates on Somalia peacekeeping force - Summary

Posted on : 2010-07-27 | Author : dpa

Nairobi/Kampala - The African Union on Tuesday failed to commit to strengthening its peacekeeping force in conflict-ridden Somalia at the end of a summit, contradicting earlier statements from officials.

Leaders had gathered for a three-day summit in the Ugandan capital Kampala, two weeks after Somali insurgent group al-Shabaab carried out twin suicide blasts that killed 76 people watching the football World Cup final in the city on July 11.

They were expected to strengthen the mandate of the peacekeeping force and approve an increase in the number of soldiers serving in Somalia, where al-Shabaab is battling to oust the weak Western-backed government.

However, Jean Ping, chairman of the AU commission, said more time was needed to boost the force.

"The AU has to change the mandate but several things have to be there before this is done," he told reporters. "We need equipment to match the change in combat approach.

"We need helicopters for that," he added. "The United States and the UK are considering our request for these, but we need a firm reply."

Earlier in the day, James Mugume, permanent secretary at Uganda's Foreign Ministry, said that the AU was ready to step up the battle against the insurgents.

"The AU summit will endorse the strengthening of the mandate of the AU troops in Somalia so that if they are attacked, they would be able to respond in a more robust manner," he said.

Ping, who had earlier said Guinea and Djibouti were ready to send troops, said that money would need to be found to increase peacekeepers' wages.

East African grouping IGAD has promised 2,000 extra troops, which would boost the force to 8,000 soldiers.

Earlier reports that South Africa would send forces also appeared false, as Ping claimed Africa's largest economy had overspent at the World Cup.

The attack in Uganda was the first on foreign soil by al-Shabaab, which claims links to the al-Qaeda network. It said the bombings were retaliation for the presence of Ugandan peacekeepers in the Somali capital Mogadishu.

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni had hoped the bombings would galvanise support for the peacekeeping force. He wants to base as many as 20,000 troops in Somalia.

However, previous pledges by AU states have not been met. Only Uganda and Burundi currently provide troops to the 6,000-strong force.

Some analysts question the wisdom of sending more troops to a country where foreign intervention - including an invasion by Ethiopia in late 2006 - has only deepened the crisis.

The theme of the AU summit was maternal, infant and child health and development in Africa. But the main topic was overshadowed by the regional threat posed by Somalia, where analysts say foreign fighters are setting up camp.

The peacekeepers are propping up Somalia's weak Western-backed government, while al-Shabaab and its allies control much of the chaotic Horn of Africa nation, which has been without an effective central government since 1991.

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