KAMPALA, Uganda (AP) — About 400 Ugandan troops will be deployed to Somalia under a new United Nations guard unit charged with protecting U.N. staff and installations in the violence-prone Somali capital, Ugandan military officials said.
Dressed in the U.N.'s blue helmets and Ugandan military fatigues they will wear while on duty in Mogadishu, the troops were urged to show discipline in a ceremony witnessed by their Western trainers on Wednesday.
Aleem Siddique, the spokesman for the U.N. mission in Mogadishu, said about 60 Ugandan troops would arrive in Mogadishu on Thursday and the rest would arrive at the end of the month. The troops are tasked by the U.N. Security Council to protect U.N. civilian staff and facilities in Mogadishu. The U.N. last year recommended the deployment of a "static" guard unit to strengthen the security of its compound within the international airport in Mogadishu, which has been attacked repeatedly by Somalia's Islamic extremist rebels of al-Shabab.
"They will enable us to continue working in a high-risk area," Siddique said. "This is the first time the Ugandan People's Defense Force has deployed personnel in support of a U.N. field mission in Africa. And we're very grateful for their vital contribution in enabling us to continue our work here in Mogadishu."
Although government troops and African Union peacekeepers ousted al-Shabab from Mogadishu in 2011, the rebels, who are linked to al-Qaida, still launch lethal assaults on the seat of government as well as sites seen as popular with foreigners. In June 2013 the U.N. compound in Mogadishu was the scene of a deadly suicide attack staged by al-Shabab, which has called the U.N. "a merchant of death" in Somalia. Earlier this month a gunman at an airport in Somalia's Puntland region shot and killed two consultants working for the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime.
Siddique, the U.N. spokesman in Somalia, said the Ugandan guards are not peacekeepers but will be stationed in Mogadishu purely for defensive purposes of the U.N. political mission, which had similar guard units in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Uganda's military has long been involved in Somalia, where soldiers from the East African nation lead the U.N.-backed African Union peacekeeping force that is helping government troops to keep al-Shabab at bay.
Lt. Col. Paddy Ankunda, the Ugandan military spokesman, said Wednesday that the U.N. had requested Uganda to provide troops for the U.N. guard unit in Somalia.
"We think it's a vote of confidence," he said. "Our mission is such that we will be securing the main base camp where U.N. officials stay and do their work."
Associated Press writer Jason Straziuso in Nairobi, Kenya, contributed to this report.