12 May 2014

Sierra Leone AU Troops 'Want Out of Somalia'

The Sierra Leonean government's effort to put out a brave face of its military involvement in Somalia has run into headwinds following reports that troops are demanding a return home. This follows on the heels of a dispute over the soldiers' pay last year.

According to Sierra Leonean media, the current claims centre around a demand that Freetown observe its practice of rotational deployment. About nine members of the west African country's 850-strong contingent deployed last year say they have overstayed their one year tour of duty.

They claimed that the depression and frustration caused by the hard times experienced in Somalia had led to the death of one of their colleague, independent media reported. Lance Corporal Alusine Yorpoi died at a Nairobi hospital 10 days after admission following an undisclosed illness, the bi-weekly Politico newspaper said.

Since deploying its troops to Somalia, Sierra Leone has received several threats of domestic repercussion by the Al-Shabaab militant group, which in September attacked Nairobi's up-market Westgate shopping citing retaliation for Kenya's military involvement in the Horn of Africa country.

There have also been several reports of attacks on Sierra Leone troops, who are serving alongside other foreign soldiers under the African Union Mission in Somalia (Amisom) in the restive southern region of lower Juba.

The Sierra Leone Defence ministry has engaged in a media campaign aimed at reassuring the public following what it says are unfavourable reports in the independent media.

Thorny issue

The government policy in peacekeeping operations has been of rotational deployment, in the past a thorny topic was it was a dream for serving soldiers to go abroad, in part due to the increased pay. But apparently, the combatant experience forced on these troops by the Islamic Al-Shabaab has changed this view.

"They (Sierra Leonean troops) were not expecting this level of resistance and many of them have apparently come to see that it's no point dying and leaving behind money," a military analyst who spoke to Africa Reviewon condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the subject, said Saturday.

Defence ministry spokesman, Col Michael Samura, was quoted saying replacement of the current group of soldiers was due for June.

However, he added, it was normal in international peacekeeping for serving troops to overstay by one or two months.

The complaining troops say they have been threatened by their superiors with disciplinary action if they continued to agitate for replacement.

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