MOGADISHU, Somalia – The advance team of an African peacekeeping force to Somalia arrived unannounced in the country on Thursday, a senior police officer said. A Ugandan military spokesman, however, denied that the troops were in Somalia.
Thirty Ugandan troops arrived in a military plane Thursday morning, according to Adan Biid Ahmed, the police chief of the southern town of Baidoa where the transitional parliament sits.
"This is the first batch of African peacekeepers to be deployed in Somalia," Ahmed told The Associated Press on the phone from Baidoa.
Capt. Paddy Ankunda, spokesman for Uganda's peacekeeping mission, told the AP that the Ugandan deployment will not happen until next week. Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni is expected to preside over a final ceremony Thursday for the peacekeepers in Jinja, Uganda.
"There are no Ugandan troops in Baidoa; there are no Ugandan troops in Somalia," Ankunda said by phone from Jinja.
Uganda's total troop deployment is expected to reach 1,500 troops.
The Ugandan contingent will be part of an African Union peacekeeping force meant to help Somalia's fragile, transitional government establish security in the country following decisive battles with a radical Islamic movement in December and January. The movement, known as the Council of Islamic Courts, was ousted from the capital it controlled for six months and its southern Somalia strongholds.
African peacekeepers are expected to reach a level of 8,000 troops. The United Nations Security Council approved its deployment in an unanimous vote on Feb. 20.
African peacekeepers will have to confront growing violence in the capital, Mogadishu, since the government took control of it in December.
Since then, insurgents have staged near-daily attacks, with Mogadishu's civilian population bearing the brunt of the violence. And last week the insurgents threatened suicide attacks against the African peacekeepers.
Ethiopian troops, largely seen as an occupying Christian force, have been accused of indiscriminate attacks against civilian-populated areas.
Somalia has not had an effective national government since 1991, when warlords overthrew dictator Mohamed Siad Barre and then turned on one another, throwing the country into anarchy.
The transitional government was formed in 2004 with U.N. help in hopes of restoring order, but it has struggled to assert its authority.