The African Union's special envoy for Somalia has condemned the rise in
attacks on AU peacekeepers in the country in the past week. He asserted
the right of AU troops to defend themselves, but reinforced the
mission's neutrality in the country's conflict. Derek Kilner has more
from the Kenyan capital, Nairobi.
In recent weeks, Somalia's
Islamist insurgents, who since early 2007 have been battling the
country's transitional government and the Ethiopian troops who back it,
have launched a growing number of attacks on African Union peacekeepers
in the capital Mogadishu, the center of the insurgency.
of attacks last week killed two Ugandan peacekeepers. This week,
insurgents attacked the peacekeepers' positions on three consecutive
days. While the AU has reported no casualties, the group's special
envoy, Nicolas Bwakira, described the attacks as "unprecedented", and
the peacekeepers have responded with some of the heaviest firepower
they have used since deploying in February, 2007.
Nairobi, Bwakira described the insurgent attacks as a deliberate effort
to provoke a response from the African forces.
information indicates that these attacks were a calculated move
intended to draw AMISOM into direct armed confrontation with the
insurgent forces and therefore to appear to be involved directly in the
conflict. They were also intended to portray AMISOM as a partisan in
the on-going conflict so that its troops could easily become a target
and subjected attacks," he said.
The U.N.'s refugee agency said on
Friday that over 80 civilians are believed to have been killed in this
week's fighting, and 15-thousand people have fled their homes in
Some residents have described the peacekeepers'
shells hitting civilian targets. Bwakira said the peacekeepers reserved
the right to defend themselves from insurgent attacks, but pledged that
the force would not take sides in the conflict.
"We would like
to reiterate in the strongest terms possible that the African Union is
not in Somalia to fight or to be drawn into conflict we are not part
of, we are there as an impartial and neutral peacekeeping force in
order to help Somalis in their quest for peace in their country," he
The AU mission has an authorized force of 8,000 but to
date only 2,600 troops from Uganda and Burundi have been deployed, and
the mission has had little success in stemming the conflict. The AU
wants the United Nations to take over responsibility for peacekeeping
in Somalia, but the U.N. is unlikely to agree to a mission without a
dramatic improvement in security, fearful of getting bogged down in the
Analysts have suggested that the recent
targeting of AU forces by insurgents may be a strategy to discourage
further foreign intervention in the conflict.