Kampala — THE UN Security Council on Wednesday approved a resolution to send a regional peace-keeping force to Somalia, clearing the way for the UPDF to go in.
The resolution, which was unanimously adopted, also urged Somalia's government and its powerful Islamist foes to resume peace talks "without delay" on the basis of accords reached in Khartoum.
It endorsed the deployment of an 8,000-strong force, manned by troops from the seven nations of East Africa grouped under the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD).
It also called for an easing of the 1992 arms embargo on Somalia to allow "supplies of weapons and military equipment and technical training and assistance intended solely for the support or use by the (IGAD) force."
The resolution supported IGAD's view that the force should exclude troops from states that border Somalia, leaving Uganda and Sudan as the only possible contributors.
Uganda is ready to send a battalion as soon as Parliament gives its approval.
"Uganda has been ready to deploy in Somalia since one year," army spokesman Felix Kulayigye said. "It is our obligation as an African country to support our brothers and sisters in their efforts to get peace and re-establish a state. We were only waiting for this UN resolution and the lifting of the arms embargo."
The peace-keeping force is supposed to protect government institutions in Baidoa, a town 250 kilometers west of the capital Mogadishu where the transitional government is holed up.
But the troops face strong opposition from Somalia's Union of Islamic Courts, which seized Mogadishu in June and grabbed most of the rest of the South, where they have imposed strict Sharia law.
"Our reaction is no to foreign troops," Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys, the political leader of the Union of Islamic Courts, told The New Vision in September.
"If they come, we will have no choice but to fight them. We will see it as an invasion."
In a reaction, the UPDF said they have already established contacts with the Islamists. "We have already had contact with the Islamic Courts". Kulaiygye said.
"Our people who went for reconnaissance met them. We shall continue to engage in a dialogue. Our deployment must be approved by both sides in the conflict. We don't want to worsen the problem by forcing ourselves there."
Responding to critics that Uganda has its own problems in Karomoja and the north, the army spokesman said he believed the UPDF had the capacity to handle both.
"The war in the north is as good as finished since we are now in talks. Even if the talks fail, we have the capacity to sustain the present peace. As for Karamoja, the problem is worsened by the proliferation of small arms, many coming from Somalia. The sooner the Somali problem is solved, the better for East Africa. We have a stake in the stability of Somalia."
Observers fear a full-scale war between the government, backed by Ethiopia, and the Islamists, believed to be supported by Eritrea, which could engulf the whole region.
Peace talks between the two warring sides collapsed last month, largely over the presence of Ethiopian troops in Somalia.
Addis Ababa has denied the claims, insisting it has only deployed a few hundred military experts to train and advise the Somali government.
The UN meanwhile warned that it would consider measures against "those that seek to prevent or block a peaceful dialogue process, overthrow the transitional federal institutions by force, or take action that further threatens regional stability."
It said the proposed "protection and training mission," which is to be reviewed after six months, would monitor progress by the warring Somali parties in implementing agreements reached.
Wednesday's vote came as Somalia's weak government pleaded for international help to fight alleged Islamist terrorism, a day after fresh fighting was reported near the government seat.
Somalia has lacked an effective government since dictator Siad Barre was ousted in 1991.