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Burundi sends troop reinforcements to Somalia

Saturday, August 01, 2009

BUJUMBURA (AFP) — Burundi has deployed a third battalion of 850 soldiers to Mogadishu to reinforce the African Union peacekeeping mission in Somali capital, Burundi's army said Saturday.

With the new troops, more than 5,000 soldiers from Burundi and Uganda are now taking part in the AU Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), which began in March 2007 and has cost the lives of 17 Burundian soldiers.

"Burundi had already sent two battalions, or 1,700 soldiers, to Somalia as part of AMISOM," Burundian General Lazare Nduwayo told AFP.

"It just finished overnight the deployment of a third battalion of 850 men as part of this peacekeeping mission," the army spokesman said.

The deployment took place over four days with evening flights taking the forces from Burundi's capital Bujumbura to Mogadishu, he said.

"It is completely normal that we acted in secrecy without notifying the press... mainly for security reasons," Nduwayo said.

AMISOM is the only foreign force in Somalia, which has been mired in civil war since 1991. Islamist insurgents launched an offensive in May to topple a transitional government, which is backed by the international community.

In February, 11 Burundian soldiers were killed and 15 others wounded in a suicide bombing against their camp in Mogadishu, in the deadliest single attack against the force in the war-riven Somali capital.

"Burundi has decided to honour its decision to send peacekeepers to Somalia even though we do not know when the other countries will send their promised contingents," Nduwayo said. "But we hope that this will happen soon."

Nigeria, Malawi and Sierra Leone are among possible contributors to AMISOM, which was originally supposed to include 8,000 soldiers.

But the AU has so far failed to convince other countries to deploy troops to Somalia, where past UN and US missions ended in fiascos in the 1990s.

Ethiopia also deployed troops to Somalia in late 2006 and withdrew them in 2009.

The AU extended AMISOM's mission by seven months in June. The hardline Shebab Islamist fighters warned that the measure would only worsen the violence in Somalia.

Source: AFP, Aug 01, 2009