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Uganda: Country Praised On Somalia Mission

Felix Osike
Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Kampala (New Vision) - A US State Department official has hailed the Ugandan peacekeepers, serving under the African Union (AU) flag, for stabilising Mogadishu.

James Swan, the deputy assistant secretary for African affairs, told journalists in Kampala yesterday that the US was optimistic peace would return to Somalia.

"We think the current situation provides a better opportunity for long-term security in Somalia than in December, when the Union of Islamic Courts was operating through extremists groups. The overall record of the Islamic courts was not for peace."

He, however, noted it was important for the transitional government to broaden its support to include key Mogadishu-based clans, the business community, religious leaders and local courts not affiliated with extremists.

Swan explained that the AU mission was an important component of conflict resolution in Somalia. He said the US had contributed $19.6m to the peacekeeping operation.

Support for the AU operation also came from another unexpected quarter. Former Somali deputy Prime Minister Hussein Aideed, now exiled in Eritrea, has appealed to the Somali people to support the peacekeepers and called upon the AU to send more troops.

"We are appealing to the African Union to increase the number of peacekeepers. As the world can see, none of the AU peacekeepers from Uganda have been threatened by our people. The leadership of the Hawiye clan is providing a safe haven for the 1,500 Ugandan peacekeepers," Aideed told Radio France International on Tuesday night.

"Through dialogue, we are continuing to influence other groups not to interfere with the work of the peacekeepers. The Ugandan commander (Maj. Gen. Elly Karuhanga) can attest to this. Without any interference, the Ugandans have made good progress We pledged not to repeat past mistakes, which failed the peace process in Somalia," he added.

Aideed who took over the leadership of the Somali National Alliance (SNA) in 1996 following the death of his father, Gen. Mohamed Aideed, has taken refugee in Eritrea along with a leader of the defeated Islamic Courts, Ali Mahdi Mohamed.

He said he resigned his post in the transitional government "for the sake of uniting the various factions and helping the negotiations with Somalia and with Ethiopia."

He, however, called upon the Somalis to stand up against the Ethiopians, whom he blamed for destroying their capital, Mogadishu. "It is a historic capital in the Horn of Africa and it existed before Addis Ababa or Nairobi. It is over 300 years old. To destroy it with tanks and helicopter gunships is unacceptable."

Meanwhile, Reuters reports from Mogadishu that Somali security forces are seizing and burning Muslim women's veils to stop Islamist insurgents from disguising themselves for attacks.

The crackdown on veils is a highly symbolic turnaround for Mogadishu after Islamist leaders, who controlled the city in the second half of 2006, had instructed women to wear them.

"Every policeman and government soldier has orders to confiscate veils from veiled women," a senior police officer, Ali Nur, told Reuters.

"Some of the remnants of the Islamic Courts have been caught wearing veils. During the war, these remnants, pretending to be women, killed so many government troops."

Somalis are generally moderate Muslims, and most women traditionally cover their heads but not faces. Officials say some suicide attacks have been carried out by men disguised under full face-veils.

Mogadishu residents said government troops and police had been forcibly removing veils and publicly destroying them.

"Yesterday, so many veils were burnt by the police," said taxi-driver Abdullahi Mohamed. A Reuters witness saw some veiled women running away from police on Wednesday. Iftin Hussein,17, said she had left her veil at home to avoid encounters with the police.

"Government troops are unveiling women. Yesterday, I was forced to run away to escape from being unveiled. This is wrong, but we cannot do anything, we are powerless," she said.

Source: New Vision, May 09, 2007