African Union agrees to beef up Somalia force

Leaders of the African Union agreed at a summit on Monday to reinforce the AU peacekeeping mission in Somalia to counter al-Shabaab
insurgents, Ethiopian Foreign Minister Seyoum Mesfin told AFP.

“This summit has just approved the requests made by the Intergovernmental Authority for Development (IGAD),” a six-nation East African grouping, which had asked for 2 000 extra troops, said.

They would reinforce the 6 000 Ugandan and Burundian soldiers already in Mogadishu for the African Union.

He added: “The summit has approved calls for reinforcing the budget of Amisom [the AU mission in Somalia] and its equipment.”

The al-Shabaab, an Islamist extremist group that controls most of central and western, Somalia, has claimed responsiblity for two bomb attacks in Uganda’s capital Kampala on July 11.

They killed 76 people gathered to watch telecasts of the World Cup final.

It has said the aim of the attacks was to force the withdrawal of AU troops, who have been helping to sustain Somalia’s transitional government, whose authority is limited only to a few districts of the capital Mogadishu.

“We are now at a stage in which all Africans understand the urgency of the situation,” Seyoum said.

“We all think that Amisom must be reinforced immediately, along wih the means of action of the Somali transitional government.”

The African Union summit, which formally ends on Tuesday, acknowledged that “whatever reinforcement of the military force there is, it would not be able to resolve by itself the Somali problem overall,” Seyoum said.

“The priority must therefore be to reinforce the security forces, the police, and the civil and financial institutions of the transitional government,” he added.

African Union commission chief Jean Ping said earlier that Guinea was ready to send a batallion to Somalia and predicted that the mission could soon swell to 10 000 soldiers.

On the sidelines of the Kampala summit, US Assistant Secretary of State for Africa Johnnie Carson said more troops were needed on the ground in Somalia in order to defeat extremists who pose a regional and international threat.

“There is no doubt there is a need for more troops,” Carson said. “We in Washington have committed ourselves to support additional troops on the ground in the same fashion that we have supported Burundi and Ugandan troops.”

Even as the summit was unfolding, African Union troops in Mogadishu launched an attack on Monday to repulse al-Shebaab militiants from two sites in the north of Mogadishu from where they fired mortars at government targets.

At least 11 people were killed on all sides, officials said.

In another corner of the continent, meanwhile, Al Qaeda’s North African arm — al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) — said it had killed a 78-year-old French hostage in Mali.

The African Union commissioner for peace and security, Ramtane Lamamra, said it was only “a question of a few short weeks” before the reinforcements arrive in Somalia and render Amisom — which deployed in March 2007 — “more robust”.

He added that he was “reasonably optimistic” that an African Union for five helicopters from its international partners would be fulfilled.

South Africa — which has been asked to send warships to check the import of weapons to the Shebab via Kismayo port — “said it would be ready to do everything it is asked from it” by IGAD and
the African Union, Seyoum said.

The al-Shebaab leadership has proclaimed its allegiance to Osama bin Laden and the group’s attacks in Kampala — its first attacks outside Somalia — renewed fears that the Horn of Africa country could become a safe haven for al-Qaeda. – AFP

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