Thursday, July 9, 2009

US pays Uganda to arm Somali fighters

KAMPALA - Ugandan troops in Mogadishu have been secretly selling guns and ammunition to Somalia’s struggling Transitional Federal Government on behalf of the United States government, the Daily Monitor reports.

Explaining American assistance to the TFG during a recent press briefing to US journalists in Washington, D.C., a top US State Department official said Uganda has been supplying arms to Somali troops and picking dollars from Washington. “We have gone to the Ugandans when the TFG (Transitional Federal Government) has run short of weapons and ammunition and told the Ugandans to provide what TFG needs,” the official, who was not named in the partly classified June 26 briefing, said. “When the Ugandans provide those weapons, they give us a bill and an accounting for what they have turned over [to Somali government] and we then give them the money to replace the stores and the arms.”
The official said the Ugandan People Defence Force has mostly supplied small arms and ammunition and had increased its supplies in May when Somali Islamic extremists increased their attacks on the TFG and government forces.

The UPDF, which is in Somalia as part of an African Union peacekeeping force to the country, is said to have been paid up to $10 million for arming and training the TFG fighting force. This is the first time the arms-for-cash deal is being made public and the revelations could mean that the UPDF is violating the neutral terms of its peacekeeping mandate by arming one of the combatants.

Authorities in Kampala were quick to denounce the revelations as “a lie”. Lt. Gen. Katumba Wamala, the commander of the UPDF Land Forces, who has been overseeing the deployment of Ugandan troops to help stabilise Mogadishu, told Daily Monitor that “it is Washington that is giving the arms to Somalia. “The only thing we have done is to be the link to pass those weapons to TFG because the Americans cannot be on the ground to do this themselves.”

President Museveni told journalists at a press conference earlier this month that it was fine for the US to arm Somalis to fend off a rebel onslaught on the capital. “These people fighting in Somalia are wasting their time,” President Museveni said at the time. “What a democrat should do in Somalia is allow peace and demand elections.” Details of the arms-for-cash deal emerged as the beleaguered Somali President Sheikh Ahmed Sheikh Sheriff met Mr Museveni in Kampala.

The revelations could mean that the UPDF is violating the neutral terms of its peacekeeping mandate by arming one of the combatants.

According to a State House statement, the two leaders discussed bilateral issues concerning the two countries and reviewed the situation in Somalia and other regional matters. The US State Department official said that the UPDF had supplied small arms and limited munitions but “not artillery pieces, armoured vehicles or tanks” to the TFG soldiers. “These are weapons that would be used in an urban environment, fighting a counter-guerrilla insurgency,” the official said, “We have provided funds for the purchase of weapons; and have asked the two units that are there [in Mogadishu], particularly the Ugandans, to provide weapons to the TFG, and we have backfilled the Ugandans for what they have provided to the TFG government.”

Shadow Defence Minister Mr Angiro Gutmoi (FDC) said he was not aware of the arms-for-cash deal but said such a transaction is “not authorised by the Ugandan Parliament”. The Defence and Army spokesman, Maj. Felix Kulayigye, said the UPDF is only involved in training the Somali forces and securing vital state installations. “I am not aware of what the Americans are talking about and I don’t believe in telling lies.”

Uganda and Burundi have more than 4,000 troops deployed in Somalia under Amisom. The heavily undermanned and underfunded peacekeeping force is meant to secure the Presidential Palace, air and sea ports and the city’s main roads but has come under increasing attacks from Islamic extremists. The Ugandan government has defended its deployment in Somalia saying instability in that country, which has not had a functioning government in almost two decades, undermines security in the whole region.

In March, an Ilyushin-76 plane, suspected to be ferrying arms for Amisom troops in Mogadishu, crashed shortly after takeoff from Entebbe airport, killing all 11 people on board, three of them top Burundian army officers. The manifest of the cargo aircraft, chartered by Dynacorp, an American company, shows the carrier was ferrying at least 16 tonnes of military supplies. The army said then that the plane was carrying mainly tents and water purifiers although the plane’s owner claimed it had been shot down. The claims have not been verified. Transport Minister John Nasasira has said that an investigative team led by Col. (rtd) Chris Mudoola is yet to complete its work after failing to locate the plane’s flight data recorder.

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