Djibouti bolsters peacekeepers in neighbor Somalia

Reuters News
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Posted: Dec 20, 2011 12:04 PM
Djibouti bolsters peacekeepers in neighbor Somalia

By Omar Faruk and Abdi Sheikh

MOGADISHU (Reuters) - Djibouti sent the first soldiers of a 900-strong deployment to neighboring Somalia on Tuesday to bolster an under-staffed peacekeeping mission that is preventing Islamic militants take over the Somali capital.

The 100 soldiers flew into Mogadishu to join the African Union peacekeeping force AMISOM, where al Shabaab rebels are trying to drive out the country's Western-backed government.

Once in place, the 900 Djiboutians will raise the total peacekeeping force to about 10,300 troops. AMISOM has repeatedly said it needs the 12,000 mandated by a United Nations resolution just to hold the capital where it continues to face pockets of resistance.

Most of al Shabaab's fighters withdrew from the capital in August but have increasingly resorted to hit-and-run and suicide bomb attacks, and last week threatened to target Djibouti's soldiers.

A roadside bomb in Mogadishu on Tuesday killed two women street cleaners, police and residents said.

AMISOM's deputy force commander, Brigadier-General, Nduwumunusi Audace, said the arrival of all 900 Djiboutians would help the AU force tighten security outside Mogadishu.

"The Djiboutian contingent will carry out missions aimed at keeping secure state institutions, notably the port, airport or the presidency," the commander of the Djibouti contingent Lieutenant Colonel Osman Doubad told Reuters

Witnesses said the soldiers were kept waiting in the plane for more than an hour while commanders discussed their role. They are expected to set up a base in the southern Jazeera neighborhood of the city.

The rest of the Djibouti contingent is expected to arrive just before the new year and will augment a force also staffed by troops from Uganda and Burundi, which is expected to send another battalion by February.

Muslim Djibouti is home to the United States' only base in Africa and the biggest base in the continent run by its former colonial master, France.

ATTACKS IN KENYA

Somalia's neighbors like Djibouti are worried instability created by al Shabaab and al Qaeda-trained foreign fighters taking refuge there will spill over their borders.

Kenya's military is already battling al Shabaab in the south. It sent its troops into Somalia more than two months ago after a spate of kidnappings on Kenyan soil.

Since then, Kenya, the region's biggest economy, has been plagued by a wave of low-level attacks in areas close to its porous frontier with Somalia.

For the second straight day, a roadside bomb exploded in Kenya's Dadaab refugee camp, the world's largest, now home to more than 440,000 mostly Somali refugees.

No one was killed in the blast but the ongoing attacks have restricted the movement of aid workers in the camp. A provincial police commander said some suspects had been arrested in connection with the attacks.

On Monday night, two people selling khat, a mild natural stimulant, were shot dead in Kenya's eastern town of Garissa in a raid the police blamed on al Shabaab.

(Additional reporting by Arteh Abdourahim; Writing by Richard Lough; Editing by Yara Bayoumy)