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(photo credit: AP)
The first Ugandan peacekeepers arrived in Somalia's capital early Tuesday to provide protection for the still-struggling transitional government and to allow for the withdrawal of Ethiopian troops who intervened in the country.
Two cargo aircraft, one carrying 16 Ugandan soldiers and the other carrying two armored vehicles, touched down at Mogadishu's main airport in the center of the city. They were welcomed by top government officials, and were expected to move to the seaport for the arrival of more troops and equipment.
The Ugandan troops are the vanguard of a larger African Union force authorized by the United Nations to help the government assert its authority. Ethiopian troops entered Somalia in late December, when an Islamic movement threatened to attack the government.
"Ugandan troops complete with their military equipment have started to arrived in Mogadishu in compliance with United Nations' resolution and African Union's approval," said Deputy Defense Minister Salad Ali Jelle, who was at the airport to welcome the troops. "We expect Ugandans to complete their arrival today."
Residents were not allowed inside the airport for security reasons, Jelle said. Ethiopian and Somali troops have beefed up security in the capital.
"We are very happy to be the first African Union peacekeepers to Somalia. We are welcomed here," said Paddy Akunda, the Ugandan forces' spokesman. "We are not imposing anything on Somalis. We know our mandate; we will work toward restoring law and order in Somalia without targeting anybody."
Insurgents, believed to be the remnants of the Islamic movement that tried to seize power last year, have staged almost daily attacks against people associated with the government, its armed forces or the Ethiopian military.
Late Monday unidentified gunmen killed seven people, including a police commander and a leading cleric, government officials and witnesses said.
The police commander and another officer were ambushed at a major intersection in the center of Mogadishu and two bystanders were wounded in the fire fight, Mohamud Burale Coon, a shop owner, said.
Maslah Mohamed Abdi said his brother, who was the top cleric in one of Mogadishu's main mosques, was killed outside his home. The same gunmen then killed four businessmen who were chewing qat, a mild stimulant, in their home, a neighbor said.
"The men stood at the door of a room ... and then opened fire," Halima Hashi Adow said.
The cleric and the four men had been trying to hire gunmen to protect them, their homes and their neighborhood. But the insurgents use the neighborhood to launch mortar attacks on Ethiopian bases and did not want any private security forces in the area, residents said.
African Union Peace and Security Commissioner Said Djinnit said the peacekeepers are allowed to defend themselves if attacked, but would not launch attacks on anyone.
"Our mission is to support all Somalis and the political process, which is based on dialogue and reconciliation," Djinnit told journalists in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa.
A Somali government spokesman, meanwhile, said local police are prepared to fight the insurgency and crime wave.
"Security is paramount for the country to attain a lasting peace, and law enforcement mechanisms such as the prisons and police force are now ready," Hussein Mohamud Hussein, the spokesman, said.