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Explosions, Fighting Rock Somali Capital as Ugandan Peacekeepers Arrive


Mortar explosions and fighting rocked Somalia's capital Tuesday shortly after the arrival of the first batch of Ugandan peacekeeping troops. The Ugandans are part of an African Union force mandated to bring stability to the volatile nation. Cathy Majtenyi reports for VOA from Nairobi.

The presence of foreign peacekeepers in Somalia is controversial among many Somalis, especially members and supporters of the former Islamic Courts Union.

Some insurgent groups have threatened to kill any soldiers belonging to the African Union's peacekeeping mission, which began arriving Tuesday with the first contingent of Ugandan troops.

Hours after the troops landed in Mogadishu, the military section of the airport came under fire from mortar attacks. It is unclear if anyone was killed or injured.

The Ugandan army spokesman in Somalia, Captain Paddy Ankunda, tells VOA he believes the blasts were not directed at his soldiers.

"It's true there were some explosions, but they were not directed at our forces," he said. "We are not sure whether there is any connection between the shooting and the deployment but we will soon find out."

There were reports that pro-government militia near the airport exchanged fire with those who allegedly fired the shells.

Meanwhile, insurgents and Ethiopian troops, who are backing Somalia's interim government, reportedly battled it out in another area of the city.

According to Reuters news agency, at least two people were killed in the skirmish, which reportedly involved rocket-propelled grenades and heavy machine gunfire.

The 8,000-strong African Union peacekeeping force is mandated to bring stability to the capital and other areas.

"Our priority is to ensure that there is no more shooting in Somalia, and then to ensure that we bring the parties to the table to talking when the ceasefire is achieved. Our mission is not to fight anybody here," Captain Ankunda explained.

He says his and other troops are there to enable the transitional government to carry out its work.

Ugandan has pledged more than 1,500 troops to the peacekeeping force. About 375 arrived in Somalia Tuesday, with the rest expected in the coming days.

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

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