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Overstretched Uganda bears brunt of AU mission in Somalia

  • Story Highlights
  • Uganda sent 1,600 men in March as vanguard of planned 8,000-man AU force
  • Sends 250 more: No other countries deploy any troops to support mission
  • Somalia's interim government desperate for help against Islamist insurgency
  • Hundreds dead, hundreds of thousands displaced in conflict with insurgents
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MOGADISHU, Somalia (Reuters) -- Uganda announced plans on Thursday to send 250 more soldiers to bolster a peacekeeping mission in Mogadishu plagued by the failure of other African nations to commit troops to Somalia.

Ugandans in the African Union are guarding Mogadishu's sea port, airport and presidential palace alone.

Uganda sent 1,600 men to the Somali capital in March as the vanguard of a planned 8,000-strong African Union force. But no other countries have since deployed to support the AU mission to bolster Somalia's interim government against an Islamist-led insurgency.

"We are waiting for the troops to arrive," AU spokesman Paddy Ankunda said. "The country needs to be empowered -- that is what we are doing."

Uganda's chief of defense forces, General Aronda Nyakairima, was quoted in state media as saying the extra soldiers arriving this month would train forces loyal to the interim government.

"We are in high preparations to send a team of about 250 to undertake the training," he was quoted as saying.

Somali officials were not immediately available for comment.

Ugandans were surprised when African nations rushed this month to pledge forces for an expanded peacekeeping mission in Sudan's Darfur region while their troops in Mogadishu waited in vain for promised support.

Challenges facing the overstretched Ugandans include treating hundreds of patients at their ill-equipped hospital.

At a Ugandan makeshift clinic composed of a series of green tents, four Somali soldiers wounded in a landmine attack on Wednesday lay writhing in pain with freshly bandaged limbs.

"The situation is pathetic. We treat over 2,000 per week. Everybody comes here: the government, insurgents and civilians. We treat everybody," Ankunda said at the African Union base in south Mogadishu, as hundreds sat in the sun waiting for help.

Somalia's interim government is desperate for more firepower to help quell a conflict that has killed hundreds of people and displaced hundreds of thousands since December when allied Somali-Ethiopian troops ousted Islamist leaders.

Thousands of Ethiopian soldiers remain in Somalia, and have become a lightning rod for Islamists who have vowed to continue their insurgency until they leave. In June, Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi urged the U.N. Security Council to finance the AU mission so his troops can return home.

Several African countries, including Burundi and Nigeria, had vowed to join the AU mission. But a lack of funds and unrelenting violence has weighed heavily.

The Ugandans have been left guarding Mogadishu's sea port, airport and presidential palace alone. Five have been killed.

Uganda says its peacekeepers have only received allowances of $400 a month for their first two months' service.

Kampala's decision to send reinforcements came as Somalia's interim parliament prepares to discuss a draft law paving the way for oil companies to restart exploration.

Somalia is separated from the Arabian Peninsula and its huge energy reserves by the narrow Gulf of Aden. Local geologists say there is much untapped energy potential.

But oil majors such Chevron have indicated they are reluctant to re-enter Somalia, deprived of effective central rule since the ouster of its last national president in 1991.

Officials said the government signed a wealth-sharing pact this week with the northern semi-autonomous region of Puntland, giving it rights to revenues, including any oil found there.

"Natural resources will be managed by the government," government spokesman Abdi Haji Gobdon told Reuters. "The government will get 40 percent of Puntland's indirect taxes." E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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