June 3, 2011 / 4:57 PM / 8 years ago

Somali govt needs year to fight Islamists: Uganda

KAMPALA (Reuters) - Somalia’s feuding government should be given another year to fight Islamist rebels or its battlefield gains may be undone and peacekeepers may have to pull out, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni said.

Uganda's President Yoweri Museveni attends a program with world leaders to discuss world hunger during the 63rd United Nations General Assembly at the U.N. headquarters in New York September 24, 2008. REUTERS/Eric Thayer

The mandate for Somalia’s latest transitional government expires in August but the president and speaker of parliament, who covets the top job, are at loggerheads over what should happen then.

“It seems to us that the win-win situation for all parties seems to be an extension of the transitional federal Institutions for a period not exceeding one year,” Museveni, whose army contributes more than half of a 9,000-strong African Union peacekeeping force propping up the government, said.

Augustine Mahiga, the special representative of the U.N. secretary-general, said the idea has wide backing in the region.

“It is a proposal that has been supported by Burundi as a troop-contributing country. It has also been voiced by Kenya and there was a similar sentiment yesterday expressed by Djibouti,” Mahiga told reporters.

Museveni, who was speaking on Thursday at a meeting of the International Contact Group for Somalia, warned that holding elections could open the door again for the rebels.

“This may allow the extremists to re-organise and cause problems, and also undermine the battlefield gains we have made. We can’t allow to be in that situation,” he said.

Museveni’s troops form the backbone of a peacekeeping force that is all that prevents al Shabaab rebels toppling an administration plagued by corruption. Central power has effectively only stretched as far as the territory held by the peacekeepers, known as AMISOM, since 2007.

“If the current system collapses, or if it is seriously undermined, we can have no justification to stay in that situation. We will leave Somalia,” Museveni said.

Al Shabaab, seen as al Qaeda’s proxy in the region, controls large parts of the country and pockets of the capital, and diplomats say that if foreign donors and Somalia’s neighbours were to turn their back on the nation it could become a launch pad for attacks further afield.

The group struck the Ugandan capital, Kampala, last year, killing 79 people in its first attack outside Somalia.

Museveni said al Shabaab were “idiots”.

“(They should) go and play those foolish games in the Middle East and not here,” he said.

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