Somalia's capital, Mogadishu, is reportedly calm one day after African
Union peacekeepers were seen fighting al-Shabab-led insurgents in the
north of the city. The incident has raised questions about whether the
peacekeepers exceeded their mandate, which limits them to defending
themselves and key sites from insurgent attacks.
Sunday's fighting was reportedly precipitated by al-Shabab militants,
who were spotted assembling one kilometer outside of Villa Somalia, the
residence of the leader of Somalia's U.N.-backed transitional
government, Sharif Sheik Ahmed.
A Somali government official
told local reporters that peacekeepers from the African Union mission
in Somalia, known as AMISOM, backed up government troops in defending
the presidential palace.
But several people in Mogadishu
interviewed by VOA say African Union peacekeepers in armored vehicles
left their bases Sunday in the southern area of the capital and
advanced into northern Mogadishu. There, they battled insurgents in
what eyewitnesses describe as some of the worst street fighting in the
capital in recent days.
Somali reports contradict AMISOM's insistence it did not engage in any
combat with insurgents. Under their mandate, the 4,300 peacekeepers
from Uganda and Burundi have the right to use force to defend
themselves and key sites, which include Villa Somalia, and the city's
main seaport and airport in the southern part of Mogadishu.
arriving in Mogadishu more than two years ago in support of an
unpopular, Ethiopian-backed transitional government, AMISOM has been
careful to remain neutral in the insurgency, which has killed thousands
of people and have left nearly 1.5 million homeless.
the U.N.-sponsored peace process that brought Somalia's Islamist
President Sharif to power in January intensified the insurgency,
drawing hundreds of foreign fighters to Somalia to back al-Shabab, a
militant group with links to al-Qaida.
Somalia's neighbors and
the West fear Somalia could become a regional haven for terrorists. On
Friday, six Horn of Africa countries making up the Intergovernmental
Authority on Development pleaded for urgent international help in
Somalia and a review of the current AMISOM mandate, arguing that the
conflict in Somalia had changed from a civil war to an invasion by
Al-Shabab's main spokesman, Ali Mohamed
Rage, accused AMISOM troops of breaking their neutrality and becoming
combatants in the conflict.
AMISOM's Ugandan spokesman in
Mogadishu, Bariyge Ba-Hoku, did not say why the peacekeepers were
deployed Sunday nearly eight kilometers north of Villa Somalia. But he
says AMISOM has the right to be anywhere they are needed.
are not just peacekeepers at the seaport, airport, and Villa Somalia.
We are supposed to be in the whole country. And so, anywhere where we
think there is danger, anywhere we think we can assist, we will do
that," Ba-Hoku said.
Mogadishu residents say AMISOM
troops have returned to their bases, but not before forcing al-Shabab
militants to abandon several neighborhoods they had captured in
previous weeks of fighting.