Friday, November 02, 2012
By Elias Biryabarema
Ugandan troops are the backbone to the AU mission in Somalia
KAMPALA, Nov 2 (Reuters) - 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 Friday.
Minister Wilson Mukasa said the decision was irreversible and another cabinet minister was travelling to New York to explain its position to the United Nations.
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. panel 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".
Mukasa said Uganda would withdraw 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 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.
PLAYING TO GALLERY
Uganda has earned significant Western support for deploying its soldiers to a warzone 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.