Sun, Oct 23, 2011 - Page 5 News List

Kenya sends more soldiers into Southern Somalia

Reuters and AFP, MOGADISHU and NAIROBI

It is four years since AMISOM deployed to support the fragile transitional government al-Shabaab has been trying to topple.

The Burundian army dismissed the al-Shabaab claims as “propaganda,” but did not deny having suffered losses, admitting six men had been killed and 18 wounded, four of them seriously.

Asked whether Burundian soldiers had also been declared missing, Burundian Army spokesman Colonel Gaspard Baratuza said it was too early to say.

This is not the first major blow dealt to the Burundian contingent since it went into Somalia as part of the AMISOM force in 2008.

At least 43 Burundian soldiers were killed and about 100 wounded in Mogadishu in an offensive against al-Shabaab.

Another 10 died in an attack by al-Shabaab in September last year, while 17, including AMISOM’s second-in-command at the time, Burundian general Juvenal Niyonguruza, died in a double suicide attack in 2009.

Burundi and Uganda, who have deployed the 9,000 men who make up the AMISOM force, “have been keeping their losses secret since 2007 and they must have lost several hundred men by now,” said a regional analyst based in Nairobi.

“Morale is still good despite these setbacks ... the proof is that soldiers are still volunteering by the thousand for Somalia missions,” a senior Burundian officer said.

However, the soldiers are drawn largely by the opportunity for financial gain, with a soldier in the AMISOM force earning in one month what he would take a year-and-a-half to earn back home.

Moreover the family of a dead soldier receives a payment of US$50,000, according to officers in Mogadishu.

For Burundian political scientist and university professor Salathiel Muntunutwiwe, the run of bad luck can be explained by weaknesses in his country’s army.

“The current army was created in 2004 out of the former army and seven former rebel movements ... and it still has not become a professional integrated force,” he said. “The result is our soldiers go into Somalia for their own personal interest and that can lead them to commit fatal errors.”

He also questioned whether Burundi, one of the poorest countries in the world, was adequately equipped, adding that the contingent has no helicopters and few tanks.

Baratuza rejected all those arguments saying his men go into Somalia to serve a cause.

“Our soldiers are very well trained,” he said. “They are motivated by the prospect of helping restore peace in a country that is suffering the way Burundi suffered not so long ago.”

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