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Uganda Delays Peacekeeping Mission to Somalia

Uganda says it has delayed the deployment of about 800 peacekeepers to Somalia. The announcement comes one day after an explosion killed nearly a dozen people at a rally in Mogadishu for the visiting interim prime minister.

Forces from Uganda and Sudan were supposed to form the vanguard of a 7500 strong regional peacekeeping mission to Somalia.

A battalion of Ugandan troops had been training since early March for the African Union-mandated mission to help safely relocate Somalia's six-month-old transitional government from exile in Nairobi to Mogadishu, Somalia's capital.

Kampala had initially hoped to have the bulk of its troops in Mogadishu by the end of last month. But Ugandan military spokesman, Major Shaban Bantariza, says there is now enormous concern that the mission may not have enough troops to complete the task.

"There is controversy about Ethiopia,” he said. “Of course, Kenya is not sending anybody. If you send Uganda and Sudan, we are not a sufficient force. So, we must raise more forces. Sudan will have to raise more. Uganda will have to raise more."

Uganda is a member of a seven-member regional bloc called the Intergovernmental Authority on Development, which includes Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, and Sudan.

The African Union authorized the East African group, known as IGAD, to send peacekeepers to Somalia. But Somali opposition to deploying troops from neighboring Djibouti, Ethiopia, and Kenya has been fierce.

Some Somali warlords have threatened to attack peacekeepers from those countries, accusing them of having geopolitical interests in Somalia that will undermine the neutrality of the mission.

To ease tensions, Djibouti and Kenya have said that they would not send troops. But Ethiopia, which fought a bitter war with Somalia in the late 1970s, says its troops will participate in the mission if they are needed.

Western nations, including the United States, have expressed concerns about including troops from Somalia's immediate neighbors in the force.

Kampala says its peacekeepers probably will not be deployed to Somalia until IGAD members can resolve the issue of how many troops will be sent and from which countries.

Uganda's decision to delay sending peacekeepers came a day after an explosion in Mogadishu killed and wounded nearly three dozen people among thousands gathered at a soccer stadium to hear visiting interim Somali Prime Minister Ali Mohammed Gedi. His government has been unable to return to Mogadishu because of security concerns.

Prime Minister Gedi, who was not hurt, called the explosion an unfortunate accident and dismissed speculations that it was an attempt to assassinate him.

Since 1991, Somalia and its capital have been controlled by powerful warlords and their militias, who have carved up the Horn of African country into a patchwork of fiefdoms. There have been 14 attempts to install a government in Somalia in as many years.