Uganda is reportedly preparing to send its first group of peacekeeping troops to Somalia as early as Saturday. The deployment comes amid U.N. warnings that rising chaos and violence in that country could undermine the African Union's peacekeeping mission even before it gets under way. VOA Correspondent Alisha Ryu has the story from our East Africa Bureau in Nairobi.
The chief spokesman for Uganda's ministry of defense tells VOA that Ugandan army Major General Levi Karuhanga has been tapped to command forces from at least five African Union member states contributing troops to help stabilize Somalia.
The spokesman, Major Felix Kulayigye, says the 1,500 troops Uganda is sending to Somalia will be based in the country's restive capital, Mogadishu, where dozens of people have been killed in violent attacks in the past two weeks.
Kulayigye says despite repeated Islamist threats to kill peacekeepers in Somalia, morale among the Ugandan troops is high.
"These are soldiers who have prepared for two years for that mission," he said. "They are well-seasoned combatants. They have been in counter-insurgency operations in northern Uganda. In other words, we are psychologically, physically and materially prepared."
The African Union peacekeeping force would replace thousands of Ethiopian troops in Somalia, who helped the country's U.N.-recognized, secular interim government oust a Somali Islamist movement two-and-a-half months ago.
Leaders of the movement fled the capital, some vowing to carry out a guerrilla war against the government and Ethiopian troops.
Since then, there have been near-daily grenade, mortar, and rocket attacks on official buildings and Ethiopian troops in Mogadishu, severely hampering government efforts to consolidate power and restore stability.
In its monthly report on Somalia released Wednesday, the United Nations said that a power vacuum caused by the collapse of the Islamist movement has allowed Somali factional leaders to begin regaining power, and warned that the country is in danger of plunging back into lawlessness.
The report also questioned whether a peacekeeping mission, designed primarily to protect the government and train its forces, could be successfully deployed in such a hostile environment.
In addition to Uganda, Nigeria, Burundi, Malawi, and Ghana have said they would send troops.
Roughly 8,000 troops are needed for the mission, but only 4,000 have been committed so far.