* Security minister says decision "irreversible"
* Ugandan troops form bulk of peacekeeping force in Somalia
* Uganda didn't raise withdrawal threat in UN talks-envoys
By Elias Biryabarema
KAMPALA, Nov 2 Uganda will tell the United
Nations it is withdrawing its forces from military operations in
Somalia and other regional hotspots after the world body accused
it of supporting Congolese rebels, the security minister said on
Minister Wilson Mukasa said the decision was irreversible
and another cabinet minister would explain Uganda's position at
the United Nations in New York. However, it was not immediately
clear if an irrevocable decision had been taken.
U.N. diplomats told Reuters the Ugandan delegation, which
included Foreign Minister Henry Oryem Okello and other senior
officials, did not threaten to withdraw troops from
international peacekeeping missions during discussions with U.N.
officials in New York this week.
A read-out of the Ugandan delegation's meeting on Friday
with Indian Ambassador Hardeep Singh Puri, the president of the
U.N. Security Council this month, also made no mention of
threats to pull out troops. The information was made available
to Reuters by India's U.N. mission.
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 al Shabaab.
Its soldiers, backed by U.S. special forces, are also
leading the hunt for fugitive Ugandan warlord Joseph Kony in
Central African Republic, with some stationed in South Sudan.
In a leaked report, a U.N. Group of Experts last month
accused Uganda and Rwanda of supporting the so-called M23 rebel
group commanded by Bosco Ntaganda, a warlord indicted by the
International Criminal Court nicknamed "the Terminator".
India's statement said "Foreign Minister Okello apprised
Ambassador Puri of the serious concern of the Government of
Uganda about the report of the Group of Experts," and added that
the Security Council's Congo sanctions committee had yet to
formally consider the experts' report.
Puri noted that "views expressed by the independent experts
do not necessarily reflect those of the United Nations," the
statement said. It added that Uganda was an important U.N. troop
contributor playing a vital role in Somalia and elsewhere.
'TIRED OF BEING MALIGNED'
Mukasa said Uganda would withdraw troops from Somalia,
Central African Republic and Democratic Republic of Congo to
concentrate on domestic security.
"We are tired of being maligned even after sacrifices have
been made to ensure that our friends, our neighbours are okay.
The 'thank you' we get is that you are now aiding this, you are
this and that, so we are tired," he told reporters in Kampala.
A Ugandan army spokesman, Felix Kulayigye, said the military
had received no orders yet but was ready to act when it did.
"We'll not stay an extra day in Somalia when we get that
order," he said.
The African force has been vital to propping up a string of
interim governments in Somalia and driving al Shabaab militants
from all their urban strongholds over the last 15 months,
including the capital, Mogadishu, and southern port of Kismayu.
A sudden reduction in its numbers, especially in Mogadishu,
would risk unravelling the security gains that allowed the first
presidential elections in more than four decades to be held in
the capital in September.
Somalia's poorly equipped and ill-disciplined army is more
a loose affiliation of rival militias than a cohesive fighting
force loyal to a single president.
Sheikh Abdiasis Abu Musab, the spokesman for al Shabaab's
military operation, said it was unaware of Uganda's intention to
withdraw and it would keep fighting the African peacekeepers.
"After Ugandans leave, what else, it will be easier to fight
the remaining invaders. We shall finish them," he told Reuters.
Uganda has earned significant Western support for deploying
its soldiers to a war zone few foreign powers outside the region
have the stomach for.
It also benefits financially for its AMISOM contribution
while at the same time a troop presence in Somalia, Central
African Republic and South Sudan gives the Ugandan military a
big footprint across the region.
"It's just politics and playing to the gallery. They won't
pull out. Things will be quietly settled behind closed doors
with perhaps future reports not being so critical," said
London-based Somali-analyst Hamza Mohamed.
The confidential 44-page report by the U.N. Security
Council's Group of Experts, a body that monitors compliance with
the U.N. sanctions and arms embargo in place for Congo, said M23
has expanded territory under its control, stepped up recruitment
of child soldiers and summarily executed recruits and prisoners.
The report said Rwandan officials coordinated the setting up
of the rebel movement as well as its military operations.
Uganda's more subtle support to M23 allowed its political branch
to operate from within Kampala.
Uganda and Rwanda have repeatedly denied the accusations.