Kampala — UGANDA is sending 1,000 troops to Somalia to help the victorious government pacify the Horn of Africa nation after a two-week war to oust Islamic militants.
Foreign Affairs Minister Sam Kutesa told BBC yesterday that Uganda had offered a battalion, while the Somali government says Nigeria may also give troops to an African peacekeeping mission already endorsed by the United Nations before the war.
A triumphant Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, whose intervention turned the war against the Islamists, said his forces would only remain in Somalia "for a few weeks" while the interim government pacifies the chaotic nation.
"It is up to the international community to deploy a peacekeeping force in Somali without delay to avoid a vacuum and the resurgence of extremists and terrorists," he added.
Uganda's Defence Minister Crispus Kiyonga told Daily Monitor yesterday that the troops are on standby.
"We have had a force ready for a whole year and up to now it is on standby but there are procedures that have to be undertaken," Dr Kiyonga said.
The UK Daily Telegraph reported yesterday that Uganda was to deploy by the end of the week. But Dr Kiyonga dismissed the report as false.
Uganda has in the past been urged by the US to play a central role in stabilising Somalia, which until last week was being controlled by the Somalia Islamic Courts Council (SICC). Ethiopian planes, tanks and troops helped the Somali government drive out the Islamists from Mogadishu last week.
The administration broke out of its provincial outpost to end six months of Islamist rule across much of the south. In Mogadishu -- where the interim government set up gun collection points at the start of a drive to disarm one of the world's most dangerous cities -- Somali Prime Minister Ali Mohamed Gedi also said Ethiopian troops would stay a while.
"The Ethiopians will leave when they clear terrorists and pacify Somalia. It will be...weeks and months," he said.
Mr Gedi announced on Tuesday that Eritrean, Ethiopian rebel and Arab fighters were taken prisoners during the ousting of Islamists.
The Somali government, and its Ethiopian backers have long said several thousand foreign fighters were aiding the Islamist movement which took Mogadishu and most of south Somalia in June but was defeated at its last bastion on Monday.
Addis Ababa has particularly pointed the finger at its arch-enemy Eritrea, saying it sent hundreds of soldiers to fight alongside the Somalia Islamic Courts Council (SICC).
The Uganda government also denied reports that Ugandans had been captured fighting alongside rival Islamists.
Mr Gedi said there would be no mercy for foreign radicals caught in Somalia, although locals who fought with the Islamists would be pardoned if they put down their weapons.
"All foreign fighters will face a court and Somalis will be given an amnesty," he told a news conference. He did not say how many foreign prisoners his government had captured. "The Ethiopians will leave when they clear terrorists and pacify Somalia," he said.
Gedi added that Somalia had re-opened its airspace. "If an airline wants to come they need clearance from the proper institutions.