Uganda has sent diplomats to Somalia to help mediate a peace deal between the country's embattled transitional government and its opponents. As VOA correspondent Alisha Ryu reports from our East Africa Bureau in Nairobi, the diplomatic initiative is occurring amid Ugandan warnings that the country's 1,500 troops may withdraw from Somalia unless other nations contribute peacekeeping forces to help stabilize the country.
An advisor to Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, Aggrey Awori, tells VOA the president sent a three-person delegation to Somalia several days ago to spearhead efforts to reconcile the country's warring political factions.
Awori says the delegation held extensive talks with the president of Somalia's Ethiopian-backed interim government, Abdullahi Yusuf. But the delegation has not met Islamists and other members of a recently-formed anti-government coalition, based in Asmara, Eritrea.
"We are trying to broker peace between the transitional government and Islamists in Eritrea. So far, the response from both sides has been positive, although they are cautious and you can understand why they are being cautious," he said.
Nine months ago, Ethiopian troops, backing Somalia's secular transitional government, ousted the country's Islamists from power. The move sparked an Islamist-led insurgency in the capital, Mogadishu, which has since evolved into an Iraq-style guerrilla war.
Near-daily roadside bombings, grenade attacks, and fire fights between the insurgents and Ethiopian and Somali troops have killed thousands of civilians and have displaced hundreds of thousands more. Ethiopian-led government crackdowns against suspected insurgents and their supporters have led international human rights groups to accuse all sides of the conflict of war crimes.
Two months ago, the Islamists and other opposition groups boycotted a government-hosted reconciliation conference in Mogadishu, declaring that talks with the transitional government would not be possible while Ethiopian troops were still on Somali soil.
Despite the daunting task the Ugandan delegation faces to stabilize Somalia, Awori says Uganda has to pursue peace in order to withdraw the 1,500 Ugandan soldiers deployed in Mogadishu.
Uganda sent the troops in March as the vanguard force of an 8,000 member African Union peacekeeping mission in Somalia. But escalating violence has deterred other African countries from sending troops.
Awori says the lack of assistance from other African Union members has severely undermined the mission.
"We are very disappointed. Uganda's troops cannot wait forever and, at the same time, there is nothing happening on the ground," he said.
As part of its diplomatic efforts, Uganda is reportedly seeking help from Ethiopia's strategic partner in the region, the United States. Kampala says it is hoping the United States can convince Ethiopia and Somalia's transitional government that it is in their interest to invite the Islamists to join the Somali government as soon as possible.