President Yoweri Museveni on Monday pressed African countries to send troops to secure Somalia's transitional government as it returns home from exile in Kenya -- even without the support of Somali warlords who presently control the country.
"Somalia has suffered for the past 14 years and we have to deploy troops with or without the support of warlords," Museveni told defense ministers and officials from the Intergovernmental Authority on Development that is planning to send a regional peace support mission ahead of a fuller peacekeeping force.
"For the warlords to say that they are protecting the people and yet they have guns and are holding these people hostage is wrong," said Museveni, who heads the seven-nation regional group. "It is a shame for one of the ancient races in Africa to suffer for so long as we are looking on."
The defense officials later agreed to send 6,800 troops to Somalia, including some from Ethiopia and Djibouti, for a mission that would last for nine months as the African Union gathers a fuller peacekeeping force.
The troops will deploy to all regions of Somalia, excluding the breakaway republic of Somaliland, beginning at the end of April, Lieutenant General Aronda Nyakairima, Uganda's army chief, told reporters.
The decision must be endorsed by foreign ministers who will meet in Kenya on April 16-17.
The decision, however, is likely to raise tensions in Somalia, where warlords-turned-Cabinet ministers have said they are prepared to accept peacekeepers from the African Union and the Arab League -- but not troops from neighboring Ethiopia, Kenya or Djibouti.
They, along with Islamic clerics, some Somali residents and the US State Department have warned that sending troops from the neighboring countries would derail fragile efforts to end a 14-year civil war the Horn of Africa nation.
Warlords and lawmakers from a clan that controls the capital on Sunday offered to withdraw 15,000 militia fighters from Mogadishu to guarantee the security of the country's government -- but only if troops from neighboring countries are not sent.