The African Union will beef up peacekeeping troops in Somalia, but will not allow them to attack Islamists there despite the urging of several countries after the rebels killed 76 people in suicide attacks in Uganda.
African diplomats at an African Union (AU) summit told Reuters the possibility of allowing the force to attack the rebels would likely be rejected, but a cap of 8,100 on troop levels for the force, known as AMISOM, would be lifted.
Leaders at the meeting being held in Kampala minutes from the blast sites plan to sanction an additional 2,000 troops to strengthening the 6,300 AU peacekeepers in Somalia, who are barely managing to keep its besieged government in power.
Diplomats at the summit told Reuters the meeting of more than 30 African heads of state may ask the United Nations, which oversees AU peacekeeping missions, to allow AMISOM to chase down al Shabaab and avenge Uganda.
“(President Yoweri) Museveni is under pressure from the Ugandan people to act on al Shabaab,” a diplomat told Reuters. “If he pushed for the mandate to be changed after the bombings in his capital city, honestly, who would say no? But it looks unlikely.”
Even if African leaders agreed to change their mandate, the United Nations would still need to give its approval.
The United States’ top Africa diplomat Johnnie Carson told reporters the UN special representative for Somalia, Augustine Mahiga, had told African leaders he was against allowing the peacekeeping troops to attack al Shabaab.
Carson said the troops’ current mandate could allow them to defend themselves as well as protect the Somali government.
“It was Ambassador Mahiga’s view that the mandate that currently exists is sufficiently broad enough to provide the AMISOM forces with the capacity to do the job that is required,” Carson said.
Diplomats told Reuters this was a strong sign the AU would not ask the UN to change the mandate so that it could save face.
Troops from Uganda and Burundi make up the AU force, and their alleged attacks on civilians were the reason given by the al Shabaab rebels for their bombing of two bars packed with hundreds of people watching the World Cup final.
Some countries are against the change of the peacekeepers mandate, citing evidence AMISOM has killed civilians.
They argue such incidents could be a recruitment boon to the rebels, who control parts of the capital Mogadishu and much of southern Somalia.
Somalia’s near powerless Western-backed government is hemmed into a few streets of the capital Mogadishu.
Carson said at least four states were seriously thinking about committing troops to the Somali peace keeping exercise.
The AU has been asking the UN since 2007 to send peacekeepers to Somalia. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon says he will “when the time is right.”
East African regional bloc IGAD last month pledged to send another 2,000 troops to join the mission. Diplomats told Reuters this would be approved by the AU.
Guinea said at the summit it would send a battalion of troops to join AMISOM.
Countries including South Africa, Gambia, Guinea, Senegal, Nigeria, Angola, Mauritania and Ghana are being pressured to send troops, diplomats at the summit told Reuters.
At least 21,000 Somalis have been killed in fighting since the start of 2007, 1.5 million have been uprooted from their homes and nearly half a million are sheltering in other countries in the region.