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Somali Government Welcomes AU Decision to Boost Force


Somali officials have welcomed the African Union's decision to strengthen its force in the war-torn country, where al-Qaida-linked Islamist militants are threatening to topple the embattled, U.N.-backed government.

A government spokesman, Abdulkadir Mohamoud Walayo, said Wednesday the extra 4,000 troops pledged by the pan-African organization would be crucial to improving security in Somalia and containing the regional threat posed by al-Shabab militants.

But The Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday that international efforts in Somalia are being hurt because of criticism that African troops are indiscriminately shelling Somali civilians. The newspaper quoted the top U.S. diplomat on African affairs, Johnnie Carson, as saying that U.S. and AU officials discussed the issue at this week's African Union Summit in Kampala, Uganda.

Even as U.S. and African officials reaffirmed their support for the AU mission in Somalia, known as AMISOM, another insurgent group engaged the force in fierce battles Tuesday, killing at least 13 civilians and wounding 40 more people.

Hizbul Islam fighters carried out simultaneous attacks on the presidential palace and other areas in the capital, Mogadishu.

Insurgents are trying to seize the last few areas of Mogadishu controlled by the government. The transitional authorities control the airport, seaport, and presidential palace with the help of AU peacekeepers.

AU Commission Chairman Jean Ping said Tuesday, at the close of the AU Summit, that the bloc has committed to quickly send the additional soldiers.

The AU members voted to immediately deploy 2,000 troops to AMISOM, bringing the total number of its peacekeeping troops there to more than 8,000. The current force is made up of troops from Uganda and Burundi, but Ping said Guinea is also prepared to send soldiers.

AU leaders also discussed a Ugandan proposal to allow soldiers to go on the offensive against militants.

Al-Shabab claimed responsibility for the July 11 bombings in Uganda that killed 76 people watching the World Cup finals on television. It said the attacks were retaliation for Uganda's participation in the AU peacekeeping force.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP.

Related story by Ndimyake Mwakalyelye ("In Focus")

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