African peacemakers arrive in Somalia unannounced

The advance team of an African peacekeeping force to Somalia arrived unannounced in the country on Thursday, said a senior police officer.

The police chief of the southern town of Baidoa, where the transitional parliament sits, Adan Biid Ahmed, said 30 Ugandan troops, mainly officers, arrived in his town in a military plane Thursday morning.

But an Ugandan military spokesman denied that his country's troops are in Somalia.

"This is the first batch of African peacekeepers to be deployed in Somalia," Ahmed told The Associated Press on the phone from Baidoa.

The governor of Baidoa, Mohamed Madey Issaq, and Somali military officials welcomed the troops at the airport.

"There are no Ugandan troops in Baidoa, there are no Ugandan troops in Somalia," said Capt. Paddy Ankunda, spokesman for Uganda's peacekeeping mission.

Ankunda told The Associated Press on the phone from Jinja, Uganda that the Ugandan deployment will not happen until next week.

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni is expected on Thursday to preside over a farewell ceremony for the Ugandan peacekeepers in Jinja, Uganda.

Uganda's total troop deployment is expected to reach 1,500 troops.

The Ugandan contingent will be part of an African Union peacekeeping force meant to help Somalia's fragile, transitional government establish security in the country following decisive battles with a radical Islamic movement in December and January. The movement, known as the Council of Islamic Courts, was ousted from the capital it controlled for six months and its southern Somalia strongholds, the AP said.

African peacekeepers are expected to reach a level of 8,000 troops.

The United Nations Security Council approved its deployment in an unanimous vote on Feb. 20.

African peacekeepers will have to confront growing violence in the capital, Mogadishu, since the government took control of it in December.

Since then, insurgents have staged near-daily attacks, with Mogadishu's civilian population bearing the brunt of the violence. And last week the insurgents threatened suicide attacks against the African peacekeepers.

Ethiopian troops, largely seen as an occupying Christian force, have been accused of indiscriminate attacks against civilian-populated areas.

Somalia has not had an effective national government since 1991, when warlords overthrew dictator Mohamed Siad Barre and then turned on one another, throwing the country into anarchy.

The transitional government was formed in 2004 with U.N. help in hopes of restoring order. But it has struggled to assert its authority.

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