President Museveni yesterday warned that Uganda would withdraw its troops from Mogadishu if UN-pushed presidential and parliamentary elections in Somalia spark renewed assault by al-Shabaab militants.
“This may allow the extremists to re-organise and cause problems, and also undermine the battlefield gains we have made. We can’t allow to be in that situation,” he said at the ongoing 19th International Contact Group on Somalia conference in Kampala.
“If the current system collapses, or if it is seriously undermined, we can have no justification to stay in that situation—we will leave Somalia,” he added.
The UPDF began deploying in Somalia in March 2007 and government said it sent the soldiers there under African Union mandate in the “spirit of Pan Africanism”, although other countries like Nigeria that promised to contribute troops continue to dither.
Burundi is the only other country to contribute to AMISOM that keeps guard mainly over vital State installations such as the presidential villa, Parliament and supply harbours as well as the airport.
The Ugandan military says it has some 5,000 peacekeepers fighting al Shabaab in Mogadishu and expect to add 2,000 more at the end of this month. Such a decision, however, now hangs in balance following increasing difference in opinion, including of the UN Security Council, on resolving Somalia’s political question.
President Museveni told the conference that the mandate of the Sheik Sharif-led Transitional Federal Government (TFG) - due to expire in two months - should instead be extended by a year.
“We believe that to have a win-win situation, we should allow the TFG complete their tasks, after all Somalia has been unstable for the last two decades. Why should one year be a big issue?”
President Sharif said his government had no capacity to organise polls by August as demanded by the international community and described Mr Museveni’s proposal on mandate extension as “wise, logical and we support it 100 per cent”.
But Dr Augustine Mahiga, the UN Secretary General’s special envoy to Somalia, yesterday said the transitional government had been a waste. He said: “The UN security Council has urged the Transitional Federal Institutions to focus on implementation of reforms to build their legitimacy, representativeness and credibility and to reach an agreement as soon as possible on holding elections for the positions of president and speaker of parliament.”
In response, Mr Sharif said he and Dr Mahiga had not met in a “long time” and the latter “it seems is not aware of what has been going on. May be he needs more details”. The public disagreements among key stakeholders played out in Kampala as fighting between al Shabaab radicals, government forces and AU troops centering on the strategic Bakara Market intensified in Mogadishu - with 17 civilians reported killed yesterday.
A Makerere University lecturer, Mr Phillip Kasaija, who participated in drafting of the Somalia Charter, said if Ugandan peacekeepers withdraw, the insurgents would either topple interim government or its officials could simply flee out of fear.