12 July 2009

Somalia: Three UPDF Soldiers Killed

Kampala — A mortar shell killed three Ugandan soldiers of the African Union peacekeeping force on Saturday and injured another, according to the UPDF.

"A mortar shell landed at the Presidential Palace in Mogadishu, killing three of our soldiers," army spokesman Maj. Felix Kulayigye told The New Vision yesterday.

"Another one sustained serious injuries. He will be evacuated to Nairobi (Kenya) later today (yesterday)."

In separate clashes yesterday, Somali government troops, backed by African Union peacekeepers, killed 40 Islamist insurgents in northern Mogadishu, Reuters reported.

"We have killed 40 fighters from al Shabaab group and we continue to repulse them. We have now pushed them back from three northern districts of Mogadishu.

AU peacekeepers were assisting us," said Salad Ali Jelle, a parliamentarian who was involved in yesterday's fighting.

The AU force, dubbed AMISOM, has 4,300 soldiers, of which over 3,000 are Ugandans. It is the first time the peacekeepers are actively involved in battles.

Mogadishu's deputy mayor said the insurgents had captured an area near the presidential palace at the weekend." AMISOM backed us up in this latest operation because the rebels were only one kilometre to the presidential palace," said Abdifitah Shawey.

Somalia's interim government has been pushing for a stronger mandate for AMISOM to allow its soldiers to help government forces fight opposition groups.

Ugandan and Burundi peacekeepers are only allowed to defend themselves if attacked and protect key sites such as the presidential palace, airport and harbour.

"Our troops were in imminent danger so we had to take some limited action because the rebels crossed the red line where they were not supposed to go to avoid our military action," Reuters quoted the AMISOM spokesman as saying.

Residents said they saw AU troops in armoured vehicles fighting against insurgents in north Mogadishu.

"I have seen early this morning tanks of AMISOM going towards the frontline of the fighting and after a short while we heard gunshots much louder and heavier than in the past days," said resident Ahmed Haji.

Fighting in Somalia has killed at least 18,000 people since 2007 and sent hundreds of thousands more fleeing from their homes. Al Shabaab, believed to have links with al Qaeda, are fighting to overthrow the newly established transitional government.

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

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

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 risks of terrorism to the entire region.

"Extremist militias connected to Al Qaeda units ensure that Somalia remains anarchic and the only country in the world without a functioning central government," said a May report of the Enough Project.

It called Somalia one of the world's worst humanitarian disasters.

"Three and a half million Somalis need emergency assistance and humanitarian access is terrible: 49 aid workers have been killed in 2008 and 2009 and scores more kidnapped."

At a conference in Brussels on April 23, donors pledged more than $200m (sh420b) to support AMISOM and strengthen the Somali security forces. The US also sent arms to Somalia, some of them through AMISOM.

The UN Security Council has authorised sanctions against groups obstructing the peace process.

Foreign affairs minister Sam Kutesa on Friday said there was evidence that Eritrea not only arms and trains al Shabaab but also provides a transit route for fighters from Pakistan.

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