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Uganda Ready To Send Peacekeepers To Somalia

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By Tim Cocks

KAMPALA, Dec 7 2006 – Uganda is ready to send a battalion of peacekeeping troops to Somalia in line with a U.N. Security Council resolution as soon as parliament gives its approval, the state defense minister said on Thursday.

The Security Council approved a plan by the east African regional body IGAD on Wednesday to deploy peacekeepers to Somalia in a bid to avert a regional war and secure President Abdillahi Yusuf's Transitional Federal Government (TFG).

Uganda and Sudan were deemed the only two suitable countries in the region because neither borders Somalia nor has any obvious strategic interest in the country.

"We have our standby force, which is trained and prepared. They are ready to go as soon as parliament approves it," State Minister for Defense Ruth Nankabirwa told Reuters. "Until we've done that, they can't move."

Government officials in Baidoa, the only town the TFG controls, praised the U.N. move and thanked the United States for its support.

But Somalia's powerful Islamist movement, which controls Mogadishu and most of the south, rejected the resolution, warning that it would "add fuel to the fire" in the Horn of Africa country thought to be approaching all-out war.

Despite fears that a peacekeeping force would attract foreign jihadists, the U.N. approved the plan with the explicit aim of propping up Yusuf's Western and Ethiopian-backed government.

Diplomats say Ugandan troops have been preparing for the mission by practicing on a model of Baidoa they have built. Nankabirwa declined to comment on details of the preparations.

Fears that Uganda might be sucked into an ugly regional conflict were beside the point, she said. "The paradigm now is collective security," she said. "No country is an island. We did not apply to go there (but) were requested."

Diplomats say Uganda has no direct interest in Somalia but its close relationship with the United States makes it a natural ally of the U.S.-backed transitional government.

"The U.S. wants an ally in Somalia," said a Western diplomat in Kampala. "It's no secret the U.S. has been training Ugandan special forces and giving them equipment."

Nankabirwa denied that Uganda favored the TFG, saying it was asked to join the force because its presence would be "generally acceptable" in Somalia.

"We are going in as peacekeepers, not fighters," she said.

Source: Reuters


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