Ugandan troops to guard U.N. in Somalia

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Addis Ababa, 17 April 2014 (WIC) - Over 400 troops from the Ugandan People's Defense Forces (UPDF) are ready for deployment in troubled Somalia to provide protection for U.N. personnel.

"Our basic task in Somalia will be to secure and protect U.N. personnel and their installations in Somalia," Lt. Col. Wycliffe Kaita, commanding officer of the U.N. Guard Unit, said at a special ceremony held at the Singo Military Barracks on Wednesday.

The U.N.-UPDF Guard Unit is mandated with helping U.N. personnel carry out their mission of assisting Somalis rebuild and develop their war-torn country.

The battalion was mandated by U.N. Secretary-General Ban ki-moon in February following a decision that U.N. operation bases in Somalia should be equipped with their own guard units.

"This is a U.N. force, even though we are Ugandans," Kaita told Anadolu Agency when asked about the source of the mission's funding.

"All our activities will be funded by the U.N. for the entire period [that] we shall be in Somalia," he explained.

"We have been trained [and] equipped and are eager to undertake this mission successfully," the commanding officer said.

"Even though the rules of engagement state that we're a peacekeeping force, we can defend ourselves if we're attacked by the enemies," he added.

The battalion will depart for Somalia on Thursday morning following ten weeks of special training.

"This mission is going to last for a year and, according to the memorandum of understanding, it can be renewed," said Kaita.

Kaita went on to say that Somali nationals should expect stepped-up activity on the part of the U.N. mission.

"Now we're going to guarantee their security and then they should be able to move out and do their work without any threat of being kidnapped or killed by the militant group Al-Shabaab," he said.

Al-Shabaab controls several towns in the south of Somalia, which has remained in the grip of on-again, off-again violence since the outbreak of civil war in 1991.

The country had appeared to inch closer to stability with the recent installation of a new government and the intervention of African Union troops tasked with bringing Al-Shabaab to heel.

UPDF spokesman Lt. Col. Paddy Ankunda told AA that it was "the first time the Ugandan army is deploying such a huge force."

He lauded the U.N.'s decision to employ a Ugandan guard unit to protect its Somalia mission as a "vote of confidence" in Uganda's peacekeeping capability.

"Now there seems to be consensus in the U.N. family that the UPDF is very well placed to play a greater role in providing security," said the army spokesman.

Until now, security for U.N. entities in Somalia has been provided by the African Union Mission to Somalia (AMISOM), which has been stationed in the country since 2007. (Anadolu Agency)