Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Mortars fired after AU peacekeepers land

Mar 5 2007 IOL report - Mortars fired after peacekeepers land - by Sahal Abdulle - excerpt:
Mogadishu - More than a dozen mortar bombs were fired at Mogadishu's airport on Tuesday shortly after Ugandan soldiers landed there as the vanguard of an African Union peacekeeping force.

At least 16 loud explosions from the mortar strikes went off near the airport where roughly 350 Ugandans were decamped after landing in the morning, a Reuters' witness said.

"The military side of the airport has been hit. We cannot cross from this side to the other side. We don't know if anyone has been wounded there," said the reporter for a local media outlet, who saw the mortar bombs hit and who declined to be identified.

The military wing is about a kilometre away from the civilian wing of the seaside airport.

Most of the Ugandans were flown in by the Algerian air force in American-made C-130 cargo planes, landing in a city where the interim government and its Ethiopian allies face almost daily attacks.

The Ugandans are the first peacekeepers to enter Mogadishu since a well-funded US and UN peacekeeping mission in the early 1990s failed and ended in a bloody withdrawal after battles with heavily armed militiamen.

Last week, 35 Ugandan officers landed in Baidoa, the government's temporary capital in south-central Somalia. More are expected to arrive in the coming days to bring the Ugandan contingent to about 1 600.

The Ugandans are the vanguard of an AU force designed to help Somalia's interim government secure the Horn of Africa country after routing a rival Islamist movement which held most of southern Somalia for six months.

Leaders of the ousted Somalia Islamic Courts Council (SICC) went into hiding vowing to wage holy war against foreign troops.

"We are ready to deploy and defend the Somali people," said Ugandan army Captain Paddy Ankunda, also a spokesperson for the AU mission.

Two unmarked Russian-made Antonov cargo aircraft also brought three white military vehicles emblazoned with AU markings and two armoured personnel carriers.

The AU force, proposed to eventually number about 8 000, is expected to replace Ethiopian troops who helped the government mount a successful December offensive the SICC.

But as with its first peacekeeping foray, in Sudan's Darfur region, the AU is facing a shortage of money and equipment.

"I hope our partners would help us overcome the funding and logistical problems facing the AU," said Said Djinnit, AU's commissioner for peace and security in Addis Ababa.

Officials from President Abdullahi Yusuf's government and warlords who had once ruled Mogadishu were at the airport, which was under heavy security.

Nigeria, Ghana, Malawi and Burundi are also expected to send troops to join the AU force.

The Ugandans are assigned to patrol Mogadishu, one of the world's most dangerous and gun-infested cities.

None of the previous 13 attempts at a central government since the 1991 ouster of dictator Mohamed Siad Barre have succeeded in taming the city.

The guerrillas who strike almost daily in Mogadishu are suspected to be a mix of Islamists and clan militiamen who feel the government does not represent their interests, or who stand to lose control of fiefdoms if central authority is imposed.

"Our mission is not to fight, but if the lives of troops are endangered, they have the right to fight back," Djinnit said.

(Additional reporting by Tsegaye Tadesse in Addis Ababa)


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