Burundi peacekeepers deploy in Somali capital

Other News Materials 23 December 2007 17:42 (UTC +04:00)

A first contingent of 100 peacekeepers from Burundi deployed in the Somali capital Mogadishu on Sunday, hours after fighting between Islamist rebels and government forces killed at least four people.

The arrival of the Burundian soldiers in the rubble-strewn city marked the first phase of long-delayed support for 1,600 Ugandan troops who began work in March as the vanguard of a planned 8,000-strong African Union (AU) mission.

"One hundred peacekeepers from Burundi have just landed here," Captain Paddy Ankunda, the AU force spokesman, told Reuters at Mogadishu's heavily guarded international airport.

Burundi's government had pledged to send about 1,700 troops to Somalia's capital. They were meant to arrive in July, but their deployment was repeatedly delayed. It was not immediately clear when the rest of the Burundian contingent would arrive.

Without support, the Ugandans have been restricted to guarding Mogadishu's sea and air ports and presidential palace, as well as providing security for top government officials.

Meanwhile, fierce battles broke out overnight in northern neighborhoods of the city as Islamist-led insurgents attacked government security forces and their Ethiopian allies.

Residents cowered behind closed doors as both sides exchanged barrages of artillery rounds and machinegun fire.

"A mortar shell landed at a home in Yaqshid, killing two people. Another resident was killed by crossfire," one local, Mohamed Afrah, told Reuters by telephone. Several other mortar bombs landed nearby, he said, but only damaged empty houses.

A doctor at Mogadishu's main Madina hospital said two victims of the overnight fighting had been admitted there.

"One of them, a 14-year-old boy, died a few minutes ago," said Dahir Dheere. "The other one is in a serious condition."

On Saturday, the AU described the conflict in Somalia as one of the most serious challenges for peace and security on the continent. The United Nations says the country is suffering Africa's worst humanitarian crisis.

Somalia has been mired in lawlessness since warlords ousted military dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991.

There have been 14 attempts to restore effective central rule since then, but the latest has been weakened by an Islamist-led insurgency against Ethiopian-backed government forces and persistent political infighting. ( Reuters )