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General News Mon, 12 Jan 2009

Ghana to send two Battalions to Somalia

President John Atta Mills has pledged to the African Union that Ghana will urgently consider sending two battalions to the stretched African force in Somalia.

African Union's Peace Keeping Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) requires an urgent personnel beef-up to help keep power in the hands of the weak government there, after the withdrawal of the Ethiopian troops on the ground.

African Union's chief diplomat Jean Ping, who was in Ghana on 7 January for the swearing in of the new Ghanaian President, said that he got immediate pledges of Ghana's positive approval to his request for troops.

"The situation in Somalia is a constant preoccupation for us," Ping, the Chairperson of the AU Commission, told journalists at his inaugural New Year briefing, at which he spelled his vision for Africa in the New Year.

The top African diplomat said he was upset by the occurrence of two successful military coups in Africa, but also noted that his timely condemnation of an attempted one in Guinea-Bissau successfully prevented another one.

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Ping, who is set to continue his Africa-wide search for Somali peacekeeping troops during a trip later on Friday to Egypt, said that the new Ghanaian President was consulting widely on the possibility of sending at least two battalions to Somalia.

President Blaise Compaore of Burkina Faso is also considering a similar request from the African Union to increase the number of African troops to Somalia.

The Bukinabe President, who was also present at the inauguration of the new Ghanaian leader, has also welcomed the proposal to send troops.

Somalia appeared to be on the brink of a major security crisis after the Ethiopian troops announced they were pulling out of the Horn of African nation, the interim President Abdullahi Yusuf resigned and tribal fighting continued to worsen.

Ping expressed optimism that the implementation of an agreement signed in Djibouti to share power among the various political factions was well in progress and the signals were brighter for the deployment of additional troops to the country.

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Burundi and Uganda, the only two African states still retaining a semblance of military presence in Somalia, threatened to pullout of the country unless more financial support was offered to the AMISOM.

Financial experts at the AU Commission have considered a three-month budget for the Somali peace operation, at slightly over US$68 million.

The AU is also considering other forms of support to train some 10,000 security agents for Somalia, despite the challenges of having the trained soldiers join the local clan-controlled militias on the ground.

UN monitoring reports said locally trained soldiers had over the past few months sold-off their weapons to clan militias, which they then joined.

Source: --