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Somali Islamists attack African peacekeepers

Saturday, January 17, 2009

MOGADISHU (AFP) - Somalia's hardline Shebab insurgents on Saturday attacked African Union peacekeepers for the first time since Ethiopian troops pulled out from Mogadishu earlier this week, officials said.

The Islamist militia, which had vowed to target the AU following Ethiopia's withdrawal, "opened gun and mortar fire on the Burundian contingent's camp" at the former military academy, resident Abdullahi Moalim Ashkir told AFP.

"They attacked our second battalion in the Kuliyadda area late this afternoon but there were no casualties," said a Burundian army official speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to talk to the media.

"They are also firing mortar shells at the former parliament building where our forces are stationed but no casualties were reported," Baridgye Bahuko, spokesman for the AU's peacekeeping mission in Somalia (AMISOM), told AFP.

More than two years after invading Somalia to prop up a weak transitional administration and remove an Islamist movement from power, Ethiopian troops vacated their last positions in Mogadishu earlier this week.

While the move was welcomed by most, the Shebab militia -- believed to have links with Al-Qaeda -- vowed to continue its struggle against foreign "crusaders" and focus its attacks on the AU's 3,400 troops.

"It does not mean that the holy war is over if the enemy of Allah left the capital but our goal is to chase them and attack them in the places where they remain," said Sheik Ali Mohamed, a senior Shebab officer in the capital.

Mogadishu had enjoyed a relative lull in violence since the Ethiopian army pulled back, with both Islamist-dominated opposition forces and government troops taking over abandoned positions.

Speaking in Addis Ababa after a meeting with UN experts on future reinforcements to the AU's mission, the pan-African body's peace and security commissioner, Ramtane Lamamra, stressed the peacekeepers could not be described as occupiers.

"Those who issued this threat and dubbed AMISOM an occupation force should reconsider their position. The elders have spared no effort to rope in support for the peace process from all the armed factions," he said.

Lamamra announced that the United Nations had pledged significant logistical support aimed at beefing up AMISOM while it waits for a UN peacekeeping force to take over.

Source: Reuters, Jan 17, 2009