Djibouti said it is planning to send 450 soldiers to Somalia possibly next month to boost the African Union (AU) peace mission that is protecting the fragile Western-backed government.
Uganda and Burundi each have 2500 peacekeepers in Mogadishu with the AU’s AMISOM force in Mogadishu.
Its soldiers come under near-daily attacks from roadside bombs and rebel artillery.
The force is struggling to raise its numbers beyond the 5000 troops already present in the anarchic nation that has had no functional central government since 1991.
“We are preparing our troops. We are training them so that they can carry out their mission in a very efficient way,” Djibouti’s Foreign Minister Mahmoud Ali Youssouf told Reuters on the sidelines of an African Union foreign ministers’ meeting.
Youssouf said he hoped his country’s contribution would inspire others to do the same.
“Somalia is a neighbouring country. We have a very close relationship. We can see what is going on there and we have to contribute as Africans,” he said.
Since the beginning of 2007, fighting between pro-government militia and the Islamist al Shabaab group which Washington terms as al Qaeda’s proxy in the region has killed more than 21 000 Somalis and driven 1.5 million from their homes.
Together with Hizbul Islam, another hardline Islamist group, al Shabaab wants to impose a harsh version of sharia Islamic law in the country.
Youssouf said the region must remain watchful against extremist groups.
“We have to be very vigilant because al Qaeda has a very large network in the Arabian Peninsula and also in the Horn of Africa,” he said.
Separately, AU Commission Chairman Jean Ping said in a speech that Somalia’s best hope was its transitional government and urged the international community to implement their pledges for aid.
International donors pledged $213 million at a conference in Belgium about a year ago, but Somalia’s government complains that only a small proportion has so far been delivered.
Pic: Djibouti troops