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Ugandan Peacekeepers Dismiss Threat by Somali Islamic Militants
By Alisha Ryu Nairobi
The spokesman for the Ugandan army says Uganda's 1,600 peacekeeping troops in Somalia will stay in the capital Mogadishu and defend themselves against any attack by militant Somali Islamists, whose leader has vowed to destroy the African Union force. VOA Correspondent Alisha Ryu has more from our East Africa Bureau in Nairobi.
Ugandan army spokesman Major Felix Kulayigye tells VOA the threat by the head of the radical Somali group, known as the Shabbab, is being taken seriously.
But he says if the intent of the threat was to prompt Uganda to end its peacekeeping mission in Somalia and withdraw, it will not work.
"For us, it will not make us run away," he said. "We have maintained a neutral stance, so it will not change our position. However, should we get targeted, as they have done before, we shall defend ourselves."
On Wednesday, the elusive founder and leader of the Shabbab, Adan Hashi Ayro, is believed to have posted an audio recording on a Somali Web site, urging his fighters not to differentiate between Ugandan soldiers and Ethiopian troops in Mogadishu and to destroy the peacekeeping force.
Ayro, who was trained by al-Qaida in Afghanistan and is on a U.S. list of terror suspects, was a top military commander in the Islamic Courts Union before the Islamists lost power in an Ethiopia-led offensive last December.
Since then, Shabbab fighters have led a fierce insurgency against tens of thousands of remaining Ethiopian troops in Somalia, and against the secular Somali interim government supported by the government in Addis Ababa and the United States.
In May, two months after the Ugandans began arriving in Mogadishu as the vanguard force of a planned 8,000-strong African Union peacekeeping mission to Somalia, four Ugandan soldiers were killed and five others wounded in a roadside bomb attack.
The Shabbab, which at the time was also known as the Mujahideen Youth Movement, claimed responsibility for the bombing. But there has not been another major attack against the Ugandan force since, and in July, its six-month mandate was extended until January.
Uganda has expressed deep disappointment in other African Union countries, including Burundi, Ghana, Malawi, and Nigeria, for failing to contribute troops. The overall peacekeeping mission was to have been comprised of nine infantry battalions of 850 soldiers each, supported by maritime and air components, as well as a police training team.
Speaking to VOA Wednesday in Nairobi on the sidelines of an African Union conference to discuss the Somali peacekeeping mission, the AU's Director for Peace and Support Department Geoffrey Mugumya said Malawi has withdrawn its offer to send troops to Somalia, but he was hopeful that the others would fulfill their commitments.
" Nigeria promised, Ghana promised, and Burundi is almost ready [for deployment]," he said. "What is remaining is the signing of the memorandum of understanding between the AU and Burundi. Hopefully, we might do it before the end of the week, and once it is done, they will be on the ground."
There has been no official comment from officials in Burundi about the threat by militants to kill peacekeepers in Somalia.