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Uganda's Ruling Party Approves Peacekeepers for Somalia

An official with Uganda's ruling party Friday said the party has approved a plan to send a contingent of Uganda peacekeeping troops into Somalia, saying that he is confident Ugandan parliament will approve the plan. The African Union is also meeting to discuss the issue of the Somali peacekeeping force. Cathy Majtenyi reports for VOA from Nairobi.

The director of information for the National Resistance Movement (NRM), Ofwono Opondo tells VOA President Yoweri Museveni's proposal to send 1,500 Ugandan soldiers into Somalia on a peacekeeping mission has been given the thumbs-up by his party.

Opondo says it is a sure bet that Uganda's parliament will also give its approval, expected by the end of the month.

"I think they will pass it because the NRM caucus is more than two-thirds of the members of parliament, and the resolution for parliamentary approval is simply a simple majority," he said. "So I can say, the approval for deployment is as good as done."

Opondo says the 237-member NRM caucus Thursday listened to presentations by Uganda's defense and security ministers on the need to get involved in stabilizing the volatile Horn of Africa country. The lawmakers then passed a resolution allowing the defense minister to present the matter to parliament by the end of the month.

Yet to be decided, he says, are how long the Ugandan soldiers will stay in Somalia, under whose mandate and direction they will fall, and who will pay for the mission.

The party spokesman explains why the members of parliament are in favor of such a peacekeeping force.

"We have been directly affected by the collapse of the state in Somalia, in southern Sudan, and Congo. People [are] using those stateless areas to gather arms and to train and infiltrate back into Uganda and terrorize Uganda generally," said Opondo. "So we think our involvement is contributing to our own security directly."

The National Resistance's decision comes as the African Union's Peace and Security Council was set to meet Friday to discuss the proposed 8,000 strong African peacekeeping force for Somalia.

The capital, Mogadishu, is particularly volatile following the recent ouster of the Islamic Courts Union. The transitional government is now attempting to disarm various warlords and militia.

Ethiopian troops stationed in Mogadishu and other areas have been backing the transitional government.

But those troops are supposed to be leaving soon. U.S. Ambassador to Kenya Michael Ranneberger this week expressed concern that, without a stabilization force, there may be a security vacuum in the Horn of Africa nation.

A number of African countries have been approached, including Nigeria, Rwanda, Tanzania, Angola, and South Africa, but only Uganda has so far offered to contribute to the force.

Since civil war broke out in 1991, militias loyal to clan and sub-clan-based factions have controlled different parts of the country, with no central authority to provide law and order and even basic services to the population.

A transitional Somali parliament was formed in Kenya more than two years ago following a peace process.