News / Africa

Guinea to Bolster AU Peace Force in Somalia

African Union Commission chief Jean Ping says Guinea will soon dispatch a battalion of troops to bolster the AU peacekeeping mission in Somalia. From the AU summit site in Kampala, Mr. Ping also leveled a sharp blast at the International Criminal Court's genocide indictment of Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir.

Mr. Ping says an 850-member battalion of Guinean troops is trained and ready to join AMISOM, the AU peacekeeping force in Somalia.  Guinea would become the third country to join the AMISOM mission, along with Uganda and Burundi, and the first from West Africa.

Mr. Ping also said he has made a personal plea to South African President Jacob Zuma to send troops to Somalia, but has not received a reply.

Speaking to reporters Friday, the AU Commission chairman said the Guineans, and an additional 2000 Ugandan troops, could bring AMISOM's overall troop strength to 9,000 within weeks.

AMISOM's current authorized strength is 8,000, but that is likely to be revised upward when African heads of state meet beginning Sunday.

Mr. Ping also said AMISOM's mandate is likely to be strengthened to give it authority to be more aggressive in fending off attacks by Somalia's al-Shabab militants.  Their current mission is limited to protecting a few strategic installations in Mogadishu.

"They are allowed to protect civilians, but they are not allowed to attack.  This is a handicap that sometimes made it that two or three people can attack them, but we have changed it," Ping explained.  "We can't accept this any more.  If you are attacked, certainly you have to defending yourselves. They are limited by the mandate they are having there.  So, we are changing the mandate in Somalia."

AU officials say the Guinean troop deployment will take place as soon as Guinea is reinstated as a member in good standing of the continental body.  The country's membership was suspended after a 2008 military coup.  But a first round of presidential elections was held last month, and second round is expected shortly.

AU Chairman Ping also told reporters the upcoming is likely to sharply criticize the ICC genocide indictment against Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir.  He said African leaders, including many from ICC member states, are angry that ICC prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo filed a genocide charge without considering its political consequences. He answered in French, through an interpreter.

"We were not asked to investigate, to find out whether the allegations against President Bashir were true or false.  The ICC...first began by accepting war crimes and crimes against humanity, and then a few days ago, they added the crime genocide.  On which basis?  We have no idea," he said.

Mr. Ping said the latest ICC indictment is undermining efforts at reconciliation in Darfur, including the work of the African Union panel led by former South African President Thabo Mbeki.

"We are complaining the ICC is independent.  It took a decision without taking into [consideration] if this will complicate the issue of peace or the issue of dialogue," Ping said.  "It's taken independently.  Our commission, chaired by President Mbeki, is considering this in a holistic manner and a comprehensive manner.  That's why we have succeeded more than them."

President Bashir will not attend the Kampala summit, since Uganda is an ICC member state and committed to arresting the Sudanese leader.  Mr. Bashir did, however, visit Chad, another ICC member this week in defiance of the ICC arrest warrant.

Pre-summit sessions wrap up Saturday amid the tightest security seen at any African Union summit.  Streets leading to the suburban resort where the summit is being held are lined with heavily armed police, and the army has set up a truck-mounted grenade launcher a few hundred meters from the entrance.

Kampala is still reeling from the twin suicide bombs this month that killed 76 fans watching the World Cup soccer final.  Al-Shabab claimed responsibility for the terrorist blasts, saying they were in retaliation for Uganda's lead role in the AMISOM force and promised more such attacks.

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