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AU: Kampala Bombs Will Not Affect Somalia Peacekeeping

Ugandan police inspect the destroyed Ethiopian Village restaurant in Kampala after twin bomb blasts late on 11 Jul 2010 tore through crowds of football fans, killing 64 people, 11 Jul 2010

Africa's top security official says the deadly bomb attacks in Kampala have strengthened the continent's resolve to root out al-Qaida-linked elements in Somalia. The African Union is preparing to send reinforcements from Uganda and other countries to bring its Somalia peacekeeping mission up to full strength.

AU Peace and Security Commissioner Ramtane Lamamra sees clear ties between the twin bomb blasts and Uganda's support for Somalia's embattled government.

"There are linkages between what is happening in Kampala and the fact that this country is very much engaged in peacemaking and peacekeeping in Somalia," he said.

The Somali insurgent group al-Shabab last week condemned plans by six East African countries to send reinforcements to shore up the AU peacekeeping mission known as AMISOM. Uganda is the largest contributor to the 5,000-member AMISOM force, and is preparing to increase its troop commitment.

In a telephone interview, Lamamra says the terrorist attack fits the pattern of al-Shabab and other foreign-backed groups hoping to establish Somalia as a base of operations for Islamic extremists.

"The modus operandi is very much similar to that of al-Qaida, and circumstances also lead us to believe that al-Qaida is involved directly or through al-Shabab," he said.

Lamamra says the Kampala bombings will not dent the resolve of other countries in the region to bring the AMISOM peacekeeping mission up to its full authorized strength of 8,000.

"We will be submitting a report to the [AU] Peace and Security Council in the near future to say the authorized strength of 8,000 has been duly reached. Uganda is willing to remain there until such a time as the mission is fully accomplished," said Lamamra.

East African regional bloc the Intergovernmental Authority on Development this month said 20,000 troops might be needed to save Somalia from falling into the hands of extremists. That word came at an extraordinary six-country summit following news reports that Somali government forces and peacekeepers were hemmed in to a few square blocks of Mogadishu.

But Commissioner Lamamra dismissed those reports as propaganda.

"If you listen to the propaganda of al-Shabab, Somalia would have been under their full rule some time ago," he said. "That is purely propaganda. AMISOM is holding the ground together with the Somali security forces, and I believe there is no way Shabab could take over Mogadishu and overthrow the legitimate government of Sheikh Sharif," Lamamra added.

A spokesman for the U.S. National Security Council called the Kampala attacks 'cowardly and deplorable', and said Washington is ready to assist Uganda in any way possible.

The United States, along with the European Union and the United Nations, provide the bulk of the financial and military support to Somalia's transitional government.