NAIROBI (Reuters) - Hundreds of mainly Ugandan troops have arrived in Mogadishu to strengthen an African Union peacekeeping force helping Somalia’s government battle Islamist insurgents, an AU official said on Monday.
Al Shabaab, which is linked to al Qaeda, and another Islamist militia have been fighting Somalia’s government since the start of 2007.
Uganda said last month it was willing to send an additional 2,000 peacekeeping troops to the anarchic country after more than 70 people were killed in two coordinated blasts while watching the World Cup final in Kampala.
Al Shabaab claimed responsibility for the attacks.
Ugandan soldiers make up the bulk of the 6,100 strong mission known as AMISOM, while soldiers from Burundi protect the presidential palace and guarding the airport.
“The additional troops began arriving last Friday, they were airlifted to different areas and of course they will continue to arrive,” said Wafula Wamunyinyi, AU deputy special representative for Somalia.
He declined to give further details at a news conference.
African leaders meeting in Uganda last month lifted a cap of 8,100 on troop levels in Somalia. IGAD — a bloc of East African Nations — Guinea and Djibouti also pledged to send troops.
Wamunyinyi said the AU had established the identities of those behind the training and financing of al Shabaab.
“We have a list of 2,000 names,” he said but declined to elaborate.
The insurgents, who control much of the capital and large areas in central and south Somalia, have attracted foreign fighters to the lawless country.
Eleven militiamen, mostly foreign fighters, were killed when their own bombs went off prematurely in Mogadishu over the weekend. The dead were from Pakistan, India, Afghanistan, Algeria and Somalia.
At least 25 people were killed on Monday in fresh clashes between Islamist militants and government troops backed by AU soldiers.
“We have collected 75 injured people ... and our volunteers have also seen 25 dead bodies,” Ali Muse, coordinator of ambulance services in Mogadishu, told Reuters. “The numbers of injured and deaths might rise.”
More than 21,000 Somalis have been killed in fighting since the start of the insurgency, 1.5 million have been uprooted from their homes and nearly half a million are sheltering in other countries in the region.
The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation said in a report on Monday that a quarter of Somalia’s population, or 2 million people, needed humanitarian aid.
Somalia has had no effective central government for nearly 20 years.