18 June 2009

Somalia: Ugandan Peacekeeper Killed in Blast

Kampala — A Ugandan soldier serving in the African Union peacekeeping mission in Somalia was killed and another injured on Wednesday, the army has said.

"We lost one soldier and one got injured," said UPDF spokesperson Maj. Felix Kulayigye. "They were hit by an improvised explosive device."

This brings the total number of Ugandan soldiers killed to 11 since the beginning of the mission in March 2007.

With over 3,000 soldiers, Uganda is the biggest contributor to AMISOM. They guard the international airport, the port and the Presidential palace in the Somali capital, which has seen some of the worst fighting in the past days.

Islamist insurgents killed Somalia's security minister and at least 30 other people yesterday in the deadliest suicide bomb attack in Mogadishu yet.

National Security Minister Omar Hashi Aden was a key player in the government offensive against Islamist rebels, who control much of southern Somalia and want to impose a strict version of Islamic law throughout the country.

Al Shabaab fighters stepped up attacks in early May to try and oust President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed. Clashes have killed about 300 people since then.

Sources told The New Vision that over 1,000 foreign fighters linked to al Qaeda are now active in Somalia to help al Shabaab wage their holy war.

The government and Somalia's neighbours fear that if the chaos persists, more foreign fighters and weapons will be sucked into the Horn of Africa nation, increasing the risk of terrorism to the entire region.

"Al Qaeda considers Somalia a strategic place. They want to make it a safe haven for criminals," President Ahmed told a news conference.

"This is an international war against Somalis. We ask the world to help us fight the international terrorists."

A suicide car bomber targeted Aden and other officials at a hotel in Baladwayne, a central town where the minister was directing operations against al Shabaab.

Officials and hospital sources in Baladwayne said the bomb killed at least 31 people and wounded 45.

Al Shabaab claimed responsibility for the blast. "One of our Mujahideen has carried out that holy attack and the so-called security minister and his men were killed," Sheikh Ali Mohamud Rage, told local media.

An official in the prime minister's office said Somalia's former ambassador to Ethiopia, Abdkarin Farah Laqanyo, was also killed in the explosion.

"These bloody murderers will not succeed. The extremists have already failed in their attempt to overthrow the government through force," the prime minister's office said in a statement.

"Their fighters, who include several foreigners, have now resorted to the most cowardly form of violence."

There have been a growing number of suicide attacks in Somalia. A car bomber killed 14 people in January and a twin suicide attack killed 11 Burundian peacekeepers in February.

Aden moved to Baladwayne at the start of June with heavily armed troops in a bid to recapture more territory from hardline Islamist insurgents outside Mogadishu.

Al Shabaab has so far resisted government attempts to drive its fighters from the capital. The rebels, along with allied group Hizbul Islam, control most of southern Somalia bordering Kenya and parts of the central region.

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