Wednesday, March 14, 2012
The African Union's peacekeeping force in Somalia hopes to drive
Somali Islamist militants out of the country's central and southern
regions by August, when the U.N.-backed government's mandate expires,
Uganda's top army general said on Tuesday.
Since its inception in 2007, the force, known as AMISOM, has
focused its military campaign against al Shabaab rebels on the capital,
Mogadishu. However, it expects to deploy troops into former rebel
strongholds now held by Kenyan and Ethiopian troops after the United
Nations voted last month in favour of increasing troop numbers to more
"The (African Union) will deploy its troops in southern and
central Somalia as soon as possible. We hope Somalia will be completely
peaceful before coming August," General Aronda Nyakairima, chief of
Uganda's defence forces told reporters.
AMISOM has until now consisted almost entirely of Ugandan and
Burundian troops. The increase in troops numbers is to a large extent to
bring Kenyan forces fighting the insurgents in the country's southern
tip under its command.
A 100-strong Djibouti contingent arrived in December and more
soldiers from the Red Sea state and Sierra Leone are expected to join
AMISOM's ranks by April and June respectively.
Nyakairima said Ugandan and Burundian troops would push out into
the Lower and Middle Shabelle regions south of Mogadishu still held by
al Shabaab. They will also move into central Somalia's Bay and Bakool
regions, making Baidoa, which was seized by Ethiopian troops last month,
their main base outside the capital.
Under the plan, peacekeepers from Kenya and Sierra Leone will
secure southern Somalia's Gedo, and Juba regions, with their
headquarters in Kismayu.
That, however, requires routing al Shabaab from the port city
that has served as the nerve-centre of the militant's southern
operations and as a financial lifeline.
A drawn out battle for Kismayu would risk huge civilian casualties and galvanising support for the militants.
Djibouti's troops are expected to hold Galmudug, Galgadud and Hiran regions.
Under the terms of a political road map, Somalia must establish a
legitimate government seen as inclusive by the country's fractious
clans, as well as a new parliament and constituent assembly to replace
institutions plagued by corruption and infighting.
Although weakened, al Shabaab is the most powerful of an array of
militias spawned by the conflict in Somalia, where armed groups have a
history of wrecking attempted political settlements and perpetuating
war, instability and famine.
Al Shabaab on Tuesday ordered the charity Save the Children to
halt its relief work in areas under rebel control, accusing the
organsiation of corruption and feeding children out-of-date porridge.
"(Al Shabaab) strives to protect the welfare of the entire Muslim
population of Somalia and will implement all necessary safety measures
to dissuade competing organisations from degrading their quality of
life," the group said in a statement.
There was no immediate reaction from the aid group.
The rebels, who are hostile to foreign intervention in the
lawless country, banned the International Committee of the Red Cross
(ICRC) in January and 16 other organisations in November.
Areas governed by al Shabaab were among the worst hit by a famine
in the second half of last year. Local residents and international
charities accused the militants of stealing food and blocking aid as one
of the worst droughts for decades gripped the region.