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Uganda’s president presses African countries to send troops to Somalia

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By HENRY WASSWA, Associated Press Writer

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Museveni

ENTEBBE, Uganda, Mar 14, 2005 (AP) — President Yoweri Museveni on Monday pressed African countries to send troops to secure Somalia’s transitional government as it returns home from exile in Kenya — even without the support of Somali warlords who presently control the country.

"Somalia has suffered for the past 14 years and we have to deploy troops with or without the support of warlords," Museveni told defense ministers and officials from the Intergovernmental Authority on Development that is planning to send a regional peace support mission ahead of a fuller peacekeeping force.

"For the warlords to say that they are protecting the people and yet they have guns and are holding these people hostage is wrong," said Museveni, who heads the seven-nation regional group. "It is a shame for one of the ancient races in Africa to suffer for so long as we are looking on."

Warlords-turned-Cabinet ministers have said they are prepared to accept peacekeepers from the African Union and the Arab League — but not troops from neighboring Ethiopia, Djibouti and Kenya.

They, along with Islamic clerics, some Somali residents and the U.S. State Department have that warned sending troops from the neighboring countries would derail fragile efforts to end a 14-year civil war the Horn of Africa nation.

Warlords and lawmakers from a clan that controls the Somali capital on Sunday offered to withdraw 15,000 militia fighters from Mogadishu to guarantee the security of the country’s government — but only if troops from neighboring countries are not sent.

Ethiopia actively supported Somali factions with money and weapons in the civil war that started in 1991, and its troops could seek to advance Ethiopian interests if deployed in the Horn of Africa nation, some Somali lawmakers said.

Somalis also remember the war they lost in 1977 over control of Ethiopia’s southeastern Ogaden region, largely inhabited by ethnic Somalis. The Somali army never recovered from the defeat, a fact that eventually helped warlords to overthrow dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991.

Somalia’s government is based in neighboring Kenya because Mogadishu is considered unsafe.

Prime Minister Ali Mohamed Gedi’s Cabinet asked the African Union and Arab League earlier this month to send between 5,000 and 7,500 troops with a one-year mandate to protect the government as it organizes a police force and army.

The AU Peace and Security Council authorized deployment of an interim force ahead of a fuller AU mission.

Military experts meeting in Uganda on Sunday recommended sending a 10,000-strong force to Somalia for a mission that will last for around eight months at a cost of some US$500 million (A?374 million), an officer attending the talks said. The proposal was discussed by defense ministers and officials Monday.

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