Bloc promises extra 2,000 peacekeepers for Somalia
ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) - An East African regional bloc promised on Monday to send an additional 2,000 peacekeepers to Somalia, where an almost powerless government is hemmed into a few streets of its capital by Islamist militants.
AMISOM, an African Union (AU) peacekeeping force of 6,100 Ugandan and Burundian troops, is struggling to hold back the rebels. The AU has repeatedly asked for U.N. peacekeepers to be sent in but has only been given funding.
"The Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) decides to deploy 2,000 peacekeepers under AMISOM to Somalia immediately," Ethiopian Foreign Minister Seyoum Mesfin said, reading an official communique to delegates at a summit of the East African body in the Ethiopean capital Addis Ababa.
The statement did not say which countries would contribute more troops. Diplomats on the summit's sidelines told Reuters Uganda was likely to supply the biggest share of reinforcements.
The IGAD meeting was attended by heads of state from Somalia, Ethiopia, Sudan, Kenya, Uganda and Djibouti. The bloc also includes Eritrea but its membership is suspended.
Western diplomats fear Somalia could emerge as a launch pad for attacks in the Horn of Africa and further afield. Somalia's al Qaeda-linked al Shabaab militants have previously threatened to hit Uganda and Burundi for their troop contributions.
Residents of Somalia's mortar-scarred capital Mogadishu said several insurgents were killed in fighting on Monday between the two Islamist groups, al Shabaab and Hisbul Islam, which control much of the city and central and southern Somalia.
"At least 57 civilians died and 146 others were injured in the last two weeks in the north of Mogadishu," Ali Yasin Gedi of the Elman rights group told Reuters.
20,000 TROOPS WANTED
The IGAD leaders, some of whom host Somali refugees in their countries, said they eventually wanted 20,000 peacekeepers from the AU and the United Nations in the country. A U.N. resolution bans Somalia's neighbours -- Ethiopia, Kenya and Djibouti -- from contributing forces to the hard-pressed AU peacekeepers.
Djibouti planned to send 450 soldiers to Somalia in January to boost the AU mission, but the resolution tied the hands of the small Red Sea country. The region's leaders suggested the ban should be reconsidered.
"The Summit embraces the need to mobilise Somali forces internally with possible intervention by neighbouring countries including (the East African Community)," they said.
A confidential report issued following a meeting of East African chiefs of defence staff last month, which was seen by Reuters, also recommended the ban be lifted.
Rebel commanders vowed to launch a holy war against the AU forces and urged the peacekeepers to quit Somalia.
"Uganda and Burundi, take out your boys before it is too late. You will run away depressed like the U.S. and the Ethiopians who were more powerful than you," Muktar Abu Zubeir, an al Shabaab leader in Mogadishu said in a voice recording.
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