(Kampala)24 November 2008Posted to the web 25 November 2008
UGANDA has replaced its 1,700 troops in Somalia with a new contingent, the third to deploy since the first Ugandan peacekeepers landed there about two years ago.
The first batch of 100 returning soldiers landed at Entebbe airbase at 11:15am aboard a Uganda Air Cargo plane.
The leader of the excited soldiers, Maj. Stephen Lubulwa, kissed the tarmack upon disembarking from the plane.
By press time, 250 soldiers had landed and more were expected.
Welcoming the returnees, defence minister Dr. Crispus Kiyonga praised them for their discipline and courage in the effort to restore peace in Somalia.
"Uganda was the first country to respond to the call for keeping peace in Somalia because we want peace on the African continent," he said.
"The UPDF have not done anything wrong in Somalia."
Through the deputy chief of defence forces Lt. Gen. Ivan Koreta, Lubulwa handed over the Ugandan flag to Kiyonga as the UPDF brass band played.
He then handed it to the new contingent head, Col. Jackson Bakasumba.
Kiyonga urged the new contingent to be disciplined. Koreta said Somalia was a hot war, but this would not deter the UPDF from handling its peace duties.
Kiyonga noted that piracy could impact on the situation if the ransom the pirates get is used to finance insurgents.
Somali pirates have been seizing ships off the Somali coast for which they received millions of dollars in ransom.
Maj. Bahoku Barigye, the spokesman of the African Union peace-keepers in Somalia (AMISOM), however, said piracy was a symptom of the bigger problem in the country.
Warrant Officer I Joseph Bikaka, one of the returnees, said businessmen cashing in on the instability were also funding the war.
Bikaka said Somalis liked Ugandan forces, adding that "on a daily basis I would interact with between 10 to 20 of them."
Commenting on the returning soldiers, Lubulwa said the contingent lost three soldiers and 11 were injured during their 11-month-long duty.
However, overall nine Ugandans and one Burundian died, said Bahoku-Barigye.
AMISOM is supposed to replace Ethiopian troops which deployed in 2006 to contain the Islamic Courts which had seized the capital Mogadishu.
Although Ethiopia ejected the Islamists from power, they retreated to outlying towns from where they have waged a viscious guerrilla-like war.
AMISOM needs at least 8,000 troops to handle the volatile situation.
In response, Uganda first sent 1,500 soldiers in March 2007, and another 250 later that year. Burundi sent 1,700 troops this year, making a total of 3,400 troops.
Other African countries that pledged forces, like Nigeria, are yet to do so.
Kiyonga said such countries were willing to send troops to Somalia but were limited by resources.
"If the UN avails resources, other countries will beef us up."