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African Union to Press On in Somalia Despite Violence


The African Union says escalating violence against its peacekeeping force in the Somali capital, Mogadishu, will not discourage the organization from sending more troops there. VOA Correspondent Alisha Ryu has details from our East Africa Bureau in Nairobi.

The spokesman of the 53-member African Union in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia tells VOA that violent attacks, which have specifically targeted recently-arrived peacekeepers in Mogadishu, will not stop the deployment process.

Just one day after a contingent of troops from Uganda became the first peacekeepers to set foot on Somali soil in more than a decade, a convoy of AU vehicles came under a rocket-propelled grenade attack. The rocket missed the vehicles and slammed into a restaurant, killing nearly a dozen civilians, and triggering a ferocious street battle.

While the battle raged, two more AU planes brought Ugandan soldiers to the capital. The Ugandans are the vanguard of a planned AU peacekeeping force of 8,000 troops with a six-month mandate to protect Somalia's struggling transitional government, train its troops and police, and stabilize the country.

The AU spokesman, Sayyid Djinnit, downplayed Tuesday's mortar barrage that greeted peacekeepers when they arrived at Mogadishu Airport.

"There was an incident, which was far from the airport, which has not affected our people at all," he said. "It has passed almost unnoticed. Only the news has been talking about that. There is training. There is logistics. There is funding. Nothing is changing the plans of the African Union."

The African Union has received ample warnings about possible violence against its peacekeeping force in Somalia.

For months, militant members of Somalia's ousted Islamic Courts Union have threatened to carry out a guerrilla war against Ethiopian troops and any peacekeeping force deployed in their country.

The latest warning came Wednesday from the former military chief of the Islamist movement, Adan Hashi Ayro. In a speech broadcast on local radio, Ayro urged all Somali youths to fight what he called enemies in Somalia.

Ayro, who is believed to have been injured in a U.S. airstrike in the Ras Kamboni area of southern Somalia two months ago, is the founder of a disbanded, radical youth group called the Shabbab.

But radical Somalis are not the only ones who are opposed to the presence of Ethiopian troops and African peacekeepers in the Somali capital.

Trusted sources tell VOA that militiamen belonging to some members of the locally-dominant Hawiye clan have also been involved in recent attacks.

Hawiye clan members are said to be alarmed by the rise of rival Darod clan's influence and power under interim President Abdullahi Yusuf, who is a Darod and supported by Ethiopia.

On Wednesday, Hawiye clan elders released a statement, condemning Somalia's transitional government for inviting the African peacekeepers.