The Ugandan army says it is shocked by a U.N. report that alleges that some of its troops deployed as peacekeepers in Somalia may be engaged in arms trafficking activities there. The military promises to cooperate fully in any investigation launched by the Security Council's Somalia sanctions committee. VOA correspondent Alisha Ryu has details from our East Africa Bureau in Nairobi.
The spokesman for the Ugandan army, Major Paddy Ankunda, tells VOA that soldiers selected to participate in the African Union peacekeeping mission in Somalia, known as AMISOM, are the finest in the Ugandan military.
He says allegations that some of them may be involved in arms trafficking in the Somali capital Mogadishu have shocked senior officers in Kampala.
"We are all surprised by the allegations," said Ankunda. "We have not seen any evidence and we have not gotten that report formally. We highly doubt that any of the Ugandan members of that mission can [be] involved in those dealings. We highly doubt that and we hope there will be an investigation so that the truth can be told to the world."
The allegations were contained in a report submitted Thursday by South Africa's ambassador to the United Nations Dumisani Kumalo, who chairs the U.N. Security Council's Somalia sanctions committee.
Mr. Kumalo did not say the AMISOM troops in question were Ugandan or give details about their alleged activities. But for the first nine months of the peacekeeping mission, which began in March 2007, about 1,600 soldiers from Uganda made up the entire mission until several hundred troops from Burundi joined them in late December.
Mr. Kumalo said the committee have also received credible reports that the Ethiopian government and members of the secular Somali government it backs in Mogadishu are involved in illegal trafficking of arms. He said he had details of weapons being brought into Somalia by Ethiopia to arm clans perceived as being friendly to Addis Ababa.
Since Ethiopia ousted Somalia's Islamist movement from power nearly 17 months ago, Somali and Ethiopian troops have been battling Islamist-led insurgents determined to overthrow the transitional federal government.
South Africa's U.N. envoy said the committee supports a recommendation for an independent investigation of AMISOM, Somalia's interim government, and the Ethiopian government.
A year after factional leaders toppled Somali dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991 and plunged the country into a civil war, the United Nations imposed an arms embargo on Somalia. But the embargo has been repeatedly violated.
U.N. monitors are currently investigating a link between piracy, which is rampant off Somalia's coast, and arms trafficking.
Kenya's seafarers' assistance program coordinator, Andrew Mwangura, confirms that hijackings sometimes occur because Somali pirates suspect the ships are carrying arms to rival factions.
Last week, Somali gunmen hijacked a Jordanian vessel they said was delivering arms to Somalia. The hijackers ordered the crew to open the cargo to verify the contents.
"Somali pirate groups are organized under warlords," said Mwangura. "There are so many warlords. So, maybe they had information that this ship was taking arms to a rival group."
When the hijackers discovered that the cargo was nothing more than sugar, Mwangura says the ship and its crew were held for ransom and released unharmed when the ransom was paid.