Kampala — The African Union summit yesterday bowed to pressure from the United Nations and turned down a request that it support a change in the mandate of its peacekeeping mission in war-torn Somalia.
After three days of deliberations, the AU Summit, however, closed with a promise of more troops from more African countries to join Uganda and Burundi, which together currently have their soldiers serving under the African peacekeeping mission in Somalia (Amisom).
It was also agreed that Amisom, which has until now been hobbled by a mandate which restricts its troops to firing back only when attacked, now enjoy a change in rules of engagement - meaning they are free to carry out pre-emptive strikes against the al Shabaab radical Islamist militants.
The Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General to Somalia Augustine Mahiga had on Monday delivered the message to a meeting attended by the presidents of Uganda, Kenya, Somalia, Djibouti, Tanzania, prime minister of Ethiopia and other foreign ministers that there is no need to change the current mandate.
Yesterday, Mr Johnnie Carson, the US assistant secretary of State for African Affairs quoted Mr Mahiga as telling a closed door meeting also attended by three of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council; United States, France and Britain, that: "It was his view that under the existing mandate, the forces on the ground could act in a more responsible but robust fashion."
Uganda and the Somali Transitional Federal Government had prevailed on the regional Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) to call for a change of mandate saying the situation in Somalia warrants peace enforcement and not peacekeeping. With Uganda putting 2,000 additional soldiers at the ready, the number of Amisom troops headed for Somalia, could still top the 20,000 mark that leaders of IGAD want.
Quoting Mr Mahiga, Mr Carson told a press conference in Kampala that Chapter 7 of the UN Charter gives the 6,300 Amisom force in Mogadishu "precisely what they need to undertake the kinds of operations that are required".
That provision signed in San Francisco, California on June 26, 1945, authorises the world body's Security Council to determine military and non-military responses to threats to peace or any act of aggression.
Weeks after the al Shabaab, a self-declared affiliate to terrorist network, al Qaeda, claimed responsibility for the July 11 bomb attacks in Kampala that killed at least 76 people, President Museveni has been quoted telling BBC that the peacekeeping mission in Somalia remains "confused" by the current mandate. "They don't understand what they are doing. So they need a robust answer, a robust incisive answer," he told BBC.
Yesterday, the Chairman of the AU Commission, Mr Jean Ping said: "We had a request to change the mandate, which is under consideration. But there are implications. If we change the mandate, we need more equipment ..."
Mr Ping told journalists at the closure of the Summit that discussions with the USA, UK and France on reinforcing AMISOM with five helicopters were promising. He said the AU would also increase the soldiers pay from the current $ 500 dollars $750 dollars.
Separately, Mr ping said the Summit unanimously rejected the International Criminal Court indictment of Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity in the Darfur region of that country. Arguing that the indictments are an abuse of African sovereignty for a non-African entity to seek the trial of a sitting president from the continent, the Summit demanded a 12-month suspension of the ICC arrest warrants against Mr Bashir. During this time, Mr Ping said, an African process would review the alleged evidence against the Sudanese President before action is taken.