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World News

African Union adds 4,000 troops to Somalia peace force

KAMPALA (Reuters) - The African Union (AU) will add 4,000 troops to its peace force in Somalia and is considering whether to let them battle Islamists who were behind suicide attacks in Uganda that killed 76 people.

AU officials at the group’s summit on Tuesday said a cap of 8,100 on troop levels for the force, known as AMISOM, had been lifted and they were mulling whether to give it powers to combat militants, despite misgivings of some AU members.

Leaders at the meeting, convened in Kampala close to where the suicide bombers struck, sanctioned reinforcements for the currently deployed 6,200 AU peacekeepers who are barely managing to keep Somalia’s besieged government in office.

“We are committed to deliver an additional four thousand troops ... From Guinea, we will have one battalion, from IGAD we will have 2,000 troops and Djibouti will send troops immediately,” said AU commission chairman Jean Ping.

IGAD is a bloc of East African nations.

“There was a request to move the ceiling of (8,100 troops) up and many other countries are now ready to send troops. Changing the mandate (to allow AMISOM to attack al Shabaab) is still under consideration,” Ping said at the summit’s close.

Summit diplomats earlier told Reuters the meeting of more than 30 African heads of state might ask the United Nations, which oversees AU peacekeeping missions, to allow AMISOM to chase down al Shabaab Islamists after the Uganda attacks.

Troops from Uganda and Burundi make up AMISOM. Al Shabaab blamed what it called AMISOM attacks on civilians for its suicide bomb attacks on two Kampala bars packed with hundreds of people watching the World Cup final on July 11.

UGANDAN LEADER FACES HEAT TO GET TOUGH

“(President Yoweri) Museveni is under pressure from the Ugandan people to act on al Shabaab,” one diplomat said.

“If he pushed for the mandate to be changed after the bombings in his capital city, honestly, who would say no? But it looks unlikely,” the diplomat told Reuters. The United Nations would have to approve a change in AMISOM’s mandate.

The top U.S. diplomat in Africa, Johnnie Carson, told reporters the U.N. special representative for Somalia, Augustine Mahiga, had told African leaders he was against allowing the peacekeeping troops to attack al Shabaab.

Carson said the troops’ mandate could allow them to defend themselves as well as protect the Somali government.

“It was ... Mahiga’s view that the mandate that currently exists is sufficiently broad enough to provide the AMISOM forces with the capacity to do the job that is required,” Carson said.

Some AU members oppose beefing up the peacekeepers’ rules of engagement, citing evidence AMISOM has killed civilians.

They argue such incidents could be a recruitment boon to the Islamist insurgents, who control parts of the capital Mogadishu and much of southern Somalia. The near powerless, Western-backed government is hemmed into a few streets of Mogadishu.

The African Union has been asking the United Nations since 2007 to send U.N. peacekeepers to Somalia. U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has said he will “when the time is right.”

The AU commission has been pressing more countries including South Africa, Gambia, Senegal, Nigeria, Angola, Mauritania and Ghana to provide peacekeepers, summit diplomats said.

At least 21,000 Somalis have been killed in fighting since the start of 2007, 1.5 million have been uprooted from their homes and nearly half a million are sheltering in other countries in the region.

Additional reporting Elias Biryabarema and Jeremy Clarke; Editing by Mark Heinrich

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