By Nangayi Guyson – Entebbe – Uganda’s president on Wednesday said his government is willing to provide as many as 20 000 troops to restore order in Somalia if enough money is provided for the mission.
President Yoweri Museveni speaking to visiting members of the United Nations Security Council suggested that anywhere from 12 000 to 20 000 troops could be provided for a UN- or African Union-led mission in the anarchic Horn of Africa nation. He said Uganda had the manpower, experience and training, but merely lacked the funding.
“The number is not a big deal, we can provide any number,” Museveni said at a news conference in the State House on Wednesday. “What’s the alternative? … Somalia should not be taken over by terrorists. That’s the bottom line.”
Uganda’s support of the AU-led mission in Somalia has drawn fierce criticism from an al-Qaeda-linked Somali militant group. Al-Shabaab cited Uganda’s participation in the AU mission in claiming responsibility for July terror attacks in Uganda’s capital that killed 76 people
Earlier in the day, council members visited a major air base for United Nations peacekeeping missions where a senior official told reporters that budget cuts have forced the elimination of essential aircraft and hampered operations in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Sudan.
Paul Buades, the new director of support services for the UN’s peacekeeping mission in DRC, told journalists that six more planes among the UN’s 68 aircraft may have to be mothballed as well following $73m in budget cuts.
“It reduces the capability of the forces,” Buades said in answer to a question about how fewer UN planes would affect peacekeeping efforts. “I feel sorry, as a manager responsible for the support, that I cannot deliver up to the ambition” of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s special representative in Congo (DRC).
Buades said India has pulled back eight helicopters and the UN has been left with no attack helicopters and only non-military commercial helicopters.
The UN Security Council – including the top envoys from permanent council members US, Russia, China and Britain – toured the Entebbe air base on Wednesday and met with Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni ahead of a visit this week to Sudan.
The chief aim of the trip to Sudan is to prevent any obstruction of a referendum in early January that could split Africa’s largest nation in two, and to see what can be done about a recent escalation in violence in the country’s western Darfur region.
Southern Sudan, a semiautonomous region, is scheduled to vote on whether to secede from the north. The oil-rich region of Abyei is due to hold a separate vote the same day, deciding whether to be part of the north or the south.
Vote preparations are behind schedule, and Security Council diplomats say the votes must proceed on time to avoid reigniting the catastrophic civil war that raged for decades and ended in 2005.
“The principle purpose of the trip is to underscore the council’s commitment to holding the referenda on time, and that they be a credible representation of the people of Southern Sudan and Abyei, and that the results be respected,” the US ambassador to the UN, Susan Rice, told The Associated Press.
US President Barack Obama told a high-level meeting he convened last month to rally international support for Sudan that the nation can choose peace or “slip backwards into bloodshed”.
Council members are scheduled to fly to Juba, the regional capital of Southern Sudan, and then on to conflict-wracked western Darfur and Khartoum. They plan to skip any contact with Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, charged by the International Criminal Court with war crimes and genocide. – AP