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Uganda Says It Is Committed to Peace in Somalia

Sources in Kampala tell VOA that Uganda is cooperating with Ethiopia and others in drawing up a plan to fight Islamists in Somalia.

Through several high-level sources, who wish to remain unidentified, in Kampala, VOA has learned that senior Ugandan intelligence and military officials are talking with Ethiopia, and possibly other countries and private groups, about how to replace the Islamists with a credible, secular government in Somalia.

The United States and regional power Ethiopia have charged that some senior Islamist leaders in Mogadishu, who took power nearly four months ago, have links to the al-Qaida terrorist group and are trying to create a haven for extremists in the Horn of Africa. Results of a U.N. investigation released Wednesday noted reports of Taleban fighters training in Somalia.

Speculation that Ethiopia and Uganda were discussing intervening in Somalia began during a surprise visit by Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi to Kampala last month.

The spokesman for Uganda's ruling National Resistance Movement party, Ofwono Opondo, tells VOA that Prime Minister Meles met with Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni. He says the two discussed Uganda's plan to contribute troops to an African Union-sponsored peacekeeping mission to Somalia.

But Opondo says their discussions never involved plans for invading their neighbor.

"It had nothing to do with asking Uganda to deploy outside the AU framework," he said. "We have already committed ourselves on the AU mission."

According to an article that appeared earlier this month in a British newspaper, The Observer, Uganda's role in Somalia may be more subtle than that of Ethiopia, which is believed to have sent hundreds of its soldiers to the provincial Somali town of Baidoa to protect the secular, but weak, interim government from an Islamist attack.

In the Observer article, the authors say they reviewed leaked e-mail communications, dated June of this year, between private military companies in the United States.

The Observer says the e-mails suggest the companies, with the knowledge of the Central Intelligence Agency, were planning to run covert military operations in Somalia to support the interim government and that Uganda showed willingness to provide arms to the companies to carry out the operations.

Foreign military involvement in Somalia would breach a long-standing U.N. arms embargo that went into effect after the fall of the country's last functioning government nearly 15 years ago.

VOA has not been able to confirm details of the Observer's article.

Ethiopia denies it has troops in Somalia, but the Islamists say large numbers of troops are there and their presence is tantamount to a declaration of war.

Last week, the leader of the Islamists, Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys, warned Uganda against intervening in Somalia. The Islamists have vowed to wage war if any peacekeeper sets foot on Somali soil.

On Monday, the Islamists seized the port city of Kismayo in southern Somalia, saying the move was necessary to keep Ethiopian and other African troops from landing there.