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Army peacekeepers headed for southern Sudan

4/7/2005 4:58pm

Ugandan army spokesman Shaban Bantariza.

KAMPALA, 7 Apr 2005 (IRIN) - Uganda's army confirmed on Wednesday that it would send troops to neighbouring southern Sudan, as part of a new UN peacekeeping mission to reinforce the peace deal between the government and the Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A), a former rebel movement.

"A specialised force is being prepared, and will play a part in the force for [southern] Sudan that will carry out [a] peacekeeping and monitoring mission as mandated by the United Nations," Maj Shaban Bantariza, the army spokesman, told IRIN.

Bantariza said that Ugandan soldiers were already undergoing training for the new mission in one of Africa's largest countries. The peacekeeping contingent is expected to be deployed for an initial period of six months.

However, the spokesman explained that the precise number of troops Uganda sent would depend on the UK and Japan - who were yet to decide whether they would send soldiers themselves, or provide the African Union with necessary logistics for the mission.

On 24 March, the UN Security Council voted unanimously to send 10,000 troops and more than 700 civilian police to safeguard peace in southern Sudan.

The SPLM/A and the Sudanese government signed a peace agreement on 9 January, which ended 21 years of civil war in the region - after an estimated two million people had been killed, and more than four million displaced.

Sudan and Uganda were at odds for much of the 1990s, with each accusing the other of supporting its insurgents. Diplomatic ties between the two countries were cut in 1995, but relations have thawed considerably since links were renewed two and a half years ago.

Separately, Uganda has already pledged to send up to 1,000 peacekeepers to war-ravaged Somalia under the auspices of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development.

"A battalion of soldiers is only waiting for orders to deploy to lawless Somalia," Bantariza said.

However, some Ugandan legislators have tabled a motion in parliament seeking to prevent the deployment of troops to Somalia - a move they said made no sense when Uganda itself was faced with insecurity.

Northern Uganda has, for the past 19 years, been embroiled in a bloody conflict between the rebel Lord's Resistance Army and the government.

"It is illogical to take troops outside our borders when we can't defend all our people inside the borders," Omara Atubo, a Ugandan member of parliament, told IRIN on 19 March.

However, in previous years, Uganda has sent specialised forces to UN missions in the troubled West African nations of Sierra Leone and Liberia.

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