TOPICS > World

First African Union Peacekeepers Encounter Mortar Fire

BY Admin  March 6, 2007 at 5:20 PM EDT

Ugandan peacekeepers leaving for Somalia

About 350 Ugandan soldiers were camped at the airport when the strikes occurred, but none were injured. Uganda committed 1,600 peacekeepers to help quell the daily violence in the volatile capital city of Mogadishu, as part of an intended 8,000 troop AU force.

Insurgents also attacked a Somali government base Tuesday, launching rocket-propelled grenades and firing machine guns for nearly an hour.

The remnants of Islamic militias driven from Mogadishu by government forces and Ethiopian troops in December are believed to be responsible for the attacks. Insurgents vowed to drive out any peacekeeping force when the AU first announced it would deploy soldiers.

The AU force is meant to replace Ethiopian troops, which have been stationed in Somalia since January to help the transitional government retain its weak control over the country.

The peacekeepers are the first in Mogadishu since an unsuccessful U.S. and U.N. operation ended in bloody battles and a withdrawal of troops in 1995.

Paddy Akunda, the Ugandan forces’ spokesman, said the rest of the 1,600 peacekeepers would arrive in the next 24 hours.

“We are very happy to be the first African Union peacekeepers to Somalia,” Akunda told the Associated Press. “We are not imposing anything on Somalis. We know our mandate; we will work toward restoring law and order in Somalia without targeting anybody.”

A timetable for peacekeepers from other African nations to join the Ugandan troops is still not known. Nigeria, Ghana, Malawi and Burundi are all expected to send troops, but only half of the needed AU forces for the mission have been committed.

The AU is also facing a shortage of money and equipment, similar to the limitations with the peacekeeping mission in the Darfur region.

“I hope our partners will help us overcome the funding and logistical problems facing the AU,” Said Djinnit, the group’s commissioner for peace and security, told Reuters.