U.S. expects Ugandan peacekeepers to stay in Somalia

NAIROBI Mon Nov 5, 2012 5:46pm EST

NAIROBI (Reuters) - The United States expects Uganda to keep its peacekeeping forces in Somalia, despite a threat to withdraw in protest at a U.N. report accusing Kampala of aiding rebels in eastern Congo, a senior State Department official said on Monday.

The government in Kampala said on Friday it would pull out of peacekeeping missions in Africa unless the United Nations amends a report accusing it of supporting rebels in the neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo.

Wendy Sherman, U.S. under secretary of state for political affairs, who met Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni last week, said Museveni had raised concerns about the U.N. report. However, she said she still expected him to keep peacekeeping troops on the ground.

"I fully expect because of (Museveni's) commitment to peace and security in the region that Uganda will continue to play the leadership role it has, both diplomatically and in terms of military security," Sherman told reporters in Nairobi.

Diplomats on the 15-nation U.N. Security Council said they had reached similar conclusions after meetings with a Ugandan delegation to discuss the issue. All said that the Ugandans made clear they were unhappy with the report but did not bring mention their threats to withdraw troops from any missions.

"They complained about the report but didn't say anything about ending participation in Somalia or elsewhere," one diplomat in New York said on condition of anonymity.0

Ugandan troops account for more than a third of the 17,600 U.N.-mandated African peacekeepers battling al Qaeda-linked Islamist rebels in Somalia, and their withdrawal could hand an advantage to the weakened al Shabaab rebels.

Backed by U.S. special forces, the soldiers are also leading the hunt for fugitive Ugandan warlord Joseph Kony in Central African Republic, with some stationed in South Sudan.

Uganda and Rwanda have denied accusations in a leaked U.N. Group of Experts report which said the two neighbors were arming Congo's M23 rebels, whose warlord leader has been indicted by the International Criminal Court.

In the confidential report, which was seen in full by Reuters, the experts called for sanctions on those who violated an arms embargo.

U.N. spokesman Martin Nesirky was asked if Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon had been informed of Ugandan plans to pull out of peacekeeping missions. He told reporters that the world body was aware of "various and varying" media reports on the issue.

"The United Nations has had no official communication from the government of Uganda in relation to this matter," he said.

Uganda's foreign ministry said over the weekend it was "inevitable" Ugandan forces would leave Somalia unless the U.N. corrected "false accusations" against the country.

Somalia's Prime Minister Abdi Farah Shirdon Saaid told Reuters on Saturday he hoped Uganda would not pull out its troops at what he said was a critical moment in the fight against al Shabaab.

Sherman said the east and central Africa region needed Uganda's diplomatic and military leadership, which includes Museveni's chairmanship of peace talks between Congo, M23 rebels and Rwanda.

"President Museveni and Uganda have played critical roles, not only in terms of their military capabilities but their diplomatic capabilities to try to navigate, negotiate and mediate concerns in the region," she said.

(Additional reporting by Louis Charbonneau in New York and Pascal Fletcher in Johannesburg; Editing by Duncan Miriri and David Brunnstrom)

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