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Uganda Commander in Somalia Urges Speedy Deployment of More Troops


Following a day of heavy fighting in the Somali capital, Mogadishu, the Ugandan commander of the African Union peacekeeping mission in Somalia is urging several African countries, who have pledged to contribute troops to the mission, to speed up their deployment. VOA Correspondent Alisha Ryu has that story and more from our East Africa Bureau in Nairobi.

The Ugandan commander, Major General Levi Karuhanga, made the appeal for more peacekeeping troops, after an angry mob, believed to be loyal to the ousted Islamic Courts Union, dragged the bodies of two pro-government soldiers through the streets of Mogadishu and set them on fire Wednesday.

The chief spokesman of the African Union peacekeeping mission in Somalia, Ugandan army Captain Paddy Ankunda, tells VOA that the escalating violence should not deter other nations from fulfilling their pledge to send troops.

"That (the violence) should compel them to come to Somalia because it is an indicator that there is a problem and Africans must rise up to solve it," Ankunda said.

The A.U. peacekeeping mission in Somalia right now is made up of just 1,500 Ugandan soldiers, who have been attacked daily by insurgents since their arrival in Mogadishu earlier this month.

The central African country of Burundi has offered to send 1,700 troops, but it says it does not have enough equipment for the mission. Nigeria, Malawi and Ghana have also said they would send troops, but they have not yet given details of their deployment schedule.

Even if all four countries sent peacekeepers, the mission would still be thousands short from reaching its goal of deploying 8,000 African troops in Somalia to protect the country's interim government, train its security forces, and restore order.

Captain Ankunda refused to speculate as to what would happen if no other country joined Uganda in the mission. But he acknowledged that the insurgency his men are facing in Mogadishu is becoming more lethal and better organized every day.

Ankunda said there are fears that terrorist networks, such as al-Qaida, may be helping Somali Islamist insurgents refine their tactics.

"We have no evidence, but we think it is very likely they are playing a role," he said.

On Wednesday, U.S. Ambassador to Kenya Michael Ranneberger told reporters in Nairobi that he believed radical Islamists in Mogadishu were regrouping and becoming more organized.

"To the extent they are seeking to reorganize, undoubtedly there is al-Qaida encouragement to that and support for that. But I would not attribute what is going on necessarily to al-Qaida at this point," Ambassador Ranneberger said.

Witnesses say Wednesday's insurgent attacks in the capital were some of the most violent since an Ethiopian-led invasion led to the downfall of the Mogadishu-based Islamist movement almost three months ago.

The United Nations estimates 40,000 people have fled Mogadishu since early February.