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African force in Somalia reaches full strength.

Halkaan ka akhri

BUJUMBURA — Burundi has sent an additional battalion of 850 soldiers to Somalia, an army spokesman said Wednesday, bringing the African Union (AU) force in Mogadishu close to its full strength of 8,000.

“Upon request from the AU, Burundi sent an additional battalion to Somalia last week,” Burundian army spokesman Gaspard Baratuza told AFP.

“This brings to four the total number of Burundian battalions deployed in this country as part of the African Union mission in Somalia (AMISOM),” he said.

The latest deployment from the small central African country brings to around 8,000 the total number of AMISOM troops deployed in Mogadishu, with the rest of the force provided by Uganda.

The AU force, whose main task since it was first deployed in early 2007 has been to protect the weak Western-backed transitional federal government, has failed to stabilise Mogadishu and faces a fierce Islamist insurgency.

The African Union has requested the authorised limit of the force be raised to at least 12,000 and wants a more robust mandate but the move requires approval from the United Nations Security Council.

According to military sources in Bujumbura, Burundi is training another battalion for deployment in the war-torn Horn of Africa country.

Baratuza said the latest deployment was carried out in the utmost secrecy “thanks to night flights between Bujumbura and Mogadishu.”

The first contingent of Burundian soldiers dispatched to Somalia in 2007 was met by rocket fire.

More than 30 Burundian soldiers have been killed in three years of deployment in Mogadishu.

“The best solution is if the countries which pledged to contribute troops to AMISOM come good but it doesn’t rule out an extra effort from Burundi if the AU requests it and volunteers the necessary support,” Baratuza said.

The Al Qaeda-inspired Shebab group, which has spearheaded a bloody offensive aimed at toppling the Somali government, claimed responsibility for deadly suicide bomb attacks in Uganda in July.

It warned that Burundi was next on the list but Baratuza stressed that Bujumbura’s commitment was unwavering.

“Now is not the time to be scared. Burundi is determined to help Somalia, help the Somali people in the same way we received help when we needed it,” he said.

Source     AFP.

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