The African Union today described the killing of its peacekeepers in Somalia as ‘‘a barbaric act of assassination’’ and pledged that it would send more troops to the troubled Horn of Africa country.
In the suicide attack, claimed by the radical group al Shabaab group, 11 Burundian soldiers were killed and 15 wounded. Al Shabaab said the attack was carried out by two of its “martyrs’’.
Addressing the Press in Nairobi Monday, Mr Nicolas Bwakira, the AU Special Representative for Somalia said: “We will continue doing our work. We will not shy away. We have the backing of the government of Somalia’’
He added that the AU would soon boost its 3,400 force once Uganda and Burundi send an extra battalion each, bring the force to 5,100.
Other countries that have pledged to send troops to Somalia are Nigeria, Malawi, Ghana and Burkina Faso.
However, the AU force is hampered by lack of equipment and housing for its new troops.
The al Shabaab has warned the AU force known as AMISOM to leave the country immediately.
Said its spokesman Muktar Robow at the weekend: “Go home, otherwise you will meet our hell.”
So far, 22 AU peacekeepers have been killed in Somalia.
Responding to the quit order by al Shabaab, Mr Bwakira said: “Somalia is a sovereign country. We were invited by the government and this was re-affirmed by the new president, that is what we go by, not Al-Shabaab threats.’’
Besides its peace-keeping operations, the AU is helping the new President of Somalia, Sheikh Sharif Ahmed set up a force of 2,700 a project that will cost some $250,000.
On piracy, Mr Bwakira said it is more important to address the root causes. He said: “Our mandate is peace-keeping, peace reinforcement is is the responsibility of the Somali government.’’
He told of the UN Security Council’s Resolution 1863 that pledges assistance to Somalia at three levels first being the setting up of a trust fund for the country, equipping of peace-keeping forces and a decision by April or June on the sending of a UN force to the country.
Meanwhile, al Shabaab pledged today to stage further attacks against AU peacekeepers. “This is our land and you are non-believers,” said a statement in Somali on a website used by the militants, adds Reuters
“Leave us for your safety or we shall never tire of increasing your death toll.”
The site, www.kataaib.info, posted photos of two young men it said were suicide bombers who detonated explosives in a jacket and a car next to an AU compound on Sunday in a former university of Somalia’s coastal capital Mogadishu.
The militants’ Internet statement said 52 people died and 34 were wounded in the attack.
The AU said the compound was targeted by mortar bombs, not suicide bombers. It said 15 were injured, as well as 11 killed.
Witnesses, however, appeared to back the version of a suicide attack. They described a car speeding towards the gate before hearing a blast and seeing plumes of smoke rise.
Somalia’s new leaders President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed, a moderate Islamist , and Prime Minister Omar Abdirashid Ali Sharmarke, the Western-educated son of a slain former president – were due in Mogadishu later on Monday.
They have been in neighbouring Djibouti to select a cabinet under a UN-brokered process intended to form a unity government and end 18 years of conflict in the failed Horn of Africa state.
Their biggest threat is from al Shabaab which, together with allied militia, controls large swathes of south Somalia including the strategic towns of Baidoa and Kismayu.
By contrast, the government controls only parts of Mogadishu.
Since the start of an Islamist insurgency at the beginning of 2007, at least 16,000 civilians have been killed and a million people uprooted from their homes.
Al Shabaab gained support as one of many groups waging war against Ethiopian troops who had been propping up the previous government for the last two years.
The Ethiopian withdrawal in January placated some Somalis, but al Shabaab has now turned its fire on the African peacekeeping mission and the new government.
In a statement on the weekend strike, the government of Burundi, which contributes nearly half of the African mission AMISOM, said it remained committed to stabilising Somalia and planned to reinforce its contingent soon.
Burundi’s military called for permission to respond.
“The current AMISOM mandate hampers our job. So we want our troops to respond to any attack directed to them and pursue the insurgents up to their stronghold,” said army spokesman Colonel Adolphe Manirakiza.
Regional diplomats hope the inclusion of many moderate Islamists in the new Somali government will provide a new dynamic that may marginalise hardliners like al Shabaab.
The group is on Washington’s list of terrorist groups and is known to have foreign fighters within its ranks.
Analysts are split over al Shabaab’s strength in Somalia.
Some say it could overrun the government and take over the south, while others say it only has a few thousand fighters and has despite waning popular support managed, via the media and high-profile strikes, to project an image of greater power.
Source: Daily Nation, Feb 24, 2009