Tue, Feb 24, 2009 - Page 6 News List

Somali hardliners vow to attack peacekeepers

AGENCIES , MOGADISHU AND BUJUMBURA

Somalia’s hardline Islamist insurgent movement al Shabaab yesterday promised to carry out further attacks against African peacekeepers after the deadliest strike yet killed at least 11 soldiers from Burundi.

“This is our land and you are non-believers,” said a statement in Somali on a Web site used by the militants, who are fighting against the Somali government and a 3,500-strong African Union (AU) peacekeeping force.

“Leave us for your safety or we shall never tire of increasing your death toll,” the statement said.

The site posted photos of two young men it said were suicide bombers who detonated explosives in a jacket and a car next to an AU compound on Sunday in a former university of the Somalian capital Mogadishu.

The militants’ Internet statement said 52 people died and 34 were wounded in the attack.

A military source said the soldiers were killed when attackers drove a vehicle into their camp and exploded it as the troops were offloading supplies on Sunday.

“Up to now, we count 11 soldiers killed and 15 others wounded,” Colonel Adolphe Manirakiza said, adding that the wounded had been evacuated to Nairobi.

Somali President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed, a moderate Islamist, and Prime Minister Omar Abdirashid Ali Sharmarke, the Western-educated son of a slain former president — were due in Mogadishu later yesterday. They have been in Djibouti to select a Cabinet under a UN-brokered process intended to form a unity government and end 18 years of conflict.

Their biggest threat is from al Shabaab, which along with allied militias controls large swathes of south Somalia, including the strategic towns of Baidoa and Kismayu.

The government controls only parts of Mogadishu.

Regional diplomats hope the inclusion of many moderate Islamists in the government will provide a new political dynamic that may marginalize hardliners like al Shabaab, which is on Washington’s list of terrorist groups.

In a statement, the Burundi government condemned the “barbaric attack against its contingent which deployed to this country in the interest of the Somali people and to seek peace.”

“Attacks by these evil forces will not deter Burundi or the African Union to help Somalis. We will reinforce our contingent with material and personnel,” the statement said.

The AU has also condemned the attack, the deadliest against the forces since their deployment, and said it will not deter its drive to help Somalia. The 3,400-strong AU force in Somalia is made up of Burundi and Ugandan troops.

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