Eritrean minister warns of war over Ugandan troops in Somalia

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Saturday, March 10, 2007

Map of Somalia.

The government of Eritrea warned of "dire consequences" unless Uganda removes its troops from the African Union (AU) peacekeeping force deployed to Somalia.

Ali Abdu, Eritrea’s information minister stated, "We believe the government of Uganda must rectify its error and pull out from Somalia, otherwise the situation will become increasingly dangerous. It will not only worsen, but will become a war between the Somali people and external forces. That will have dire consequences for the whole region."

Uganda has already sent 1,000 of a planned 1,500 troops under AU auspices to the area. The AU plans to send 8,000 multinational troops in total, and has recently vowed to continue their deployment despite attacks on its first deployed forces and threats of an Islamist commander. The Islamic Courts Movement has also threatened to wage jihad against the peacekeeping forces.

Reacting to the comments, Paddy Ankunda, a spokesman for the Uganda Peoples Defense Force (UPDF) said, "Eritrea has no right to demand that we withdraw. Unless they are claiming they are not part of the African Union. We received a mandate, not only from the AU but also from the UN."

The UPDF forces have been attacked since arriving at Mogadishu on March 6. They came under mortar fire at the airport during a hand-over ceremony. Over this week, two UPDF troops were wounded in an ambush and a landmine was discovered on the road leading to the airport. Two UPDF soldiers were also wounded by shrapnel in the attack and were flown back to Uganda. The AU is still investigating the incident.

Another mortar attack that missed a UPDF convoy and hit a nearby restaurant on March 7 killed 13 civilians and wounded 20.

The UPDF attributed the loss of one of its planes, which burst into flames while landing, to a technical problem and not the result of an insurgent attack.

Eritrea also took the opportunity to condemn its rival Ethiopia that helped install the provisional government of Somalia. Eritrea claimed that Ethiopia (whom it has a border conflict with) is seeking to carve up the country and was acting as a puppet of the United States.

In the past the United Nations has accused Eritrea of providing arms and equipment to the Islamists.

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