News / Africa

AU to Reinforce Peacekeeping Mission in Somalia

An African Union summit has agreed to send thousands more peacekeepers to Somalia to battle al-Qaida-linked militants who claim responsibility for the World Cup bombings in Kampala. Our correspondent reports from the Ugandan capital that a summit communique also calls for suspension of the International Criminal Court warrant against Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir.

African leaders stung by the suicide bombings that killed 76 people in Kampala this month endorsed plans on Tuesday that will soon boost the size of the AU mission, known as AMISOM, in Somalia to nearly 10,000. The AMISOM force currently consists of 6100 Ugandan and Burundian troops.

The reinforcements are expected to include a battalion from Guinea and several hundred soldiers from Djibouti. Both are Muslim majority states.

A summit communique does not specify AMISOM's rules of engagement. But the AU Chairman, Malawi's President Bingu wa Mutharika suggested AMISOM commanders have new authority in the wake of the Kampala bombings to respond to attacks by al-Shabab, the Islamic extremist group that controls much of the Somali capital, Mogadishu.

"You have seen in the Ugandan papers that the troops that have gone there are making lot of gains, in terms of controlling parts of Mogadishu, and I believe this will take place, and the threats by al-Shabab that always happens in any situation," said Bingu wa Mutharika. "The bombing of the drinking place in Kampala was intended to scare us so we don't come to hold a summit.....but it did absolutely the opposite."

The summit also reiterated a call for the United Nations Security Council to suspend for one year the arrest warrant for Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir. The Sudanese leader did not attend the Kampala summit because Uganda, as a member of the International Criminal Court, would have been obligated to arrest him on war crimes and genocide charges.

The arrest warrant has divided the continent's leaders. Many of the 30 African state parties to the ICC support calls for the Sudanese leader's arrest, and say postponing the warrant condones impunity.

But President Mutharika says the majority of the  membership want a year to present Africa's views on the validity of the ICC charges.

"We are not condoning impunity and we are not condoning any crimes that may have been committed by anybody, whether he's a head of state or not, against humanity," he said. "We're not condoning any genocide that might have been committed. But these things need to be proved. So we are asking the United Nations General Assembly to postpone the execution of that arrest warrant for 12 months, during which we will look at the issue and see if the evidence they have corroborates with ours."

Mr. Mutharika questioned whether the ICC has authority to indict the head of state of a country that is not a member of the court, without consulting the continent's leaders.

"Let us look at the position of the ICC," said Mr. Mutharika. Do they really have a right to tell us what to do on this continent? It's a question. Do they have a right to try Sudan, who's not a member of ICC? I don't know."

The ICC indictment charges President Bashir with war crimes and genocide in connection with the civil war in Darfur. The United Nations estimates as many as 300,000 people have died since the war broke out in early 2003, though the Sudanese government puts the figure at around 10,000.

Mr. Bashir has ruled Sudan since coming to power in a military coup in 1989. He won election in April in the country's first multiparty vote in 24 years.

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