- African Union - diplomacy - security - Somalia
Somalia conflict dominates talks at Africa summit
African Union leaders have gathered for a three-day summit in the Ugandan capital Kampala, where talks will mainly focus on boosting military presence in conflict-ridden Somalia.
AFP - Uganda's president urged African Union leaders at a summit here Sunday to "sweep the terrorists" out of Africa, following recent deadly attacks by Somalia's Al-Qaeda-linked Shebab rebels.
"Let us now act in concert and sweep them out of Africa," Yoweri Museveni said, referring to the perpetrators of the July 11 blasts in Kampala that killed 76 revellers watching the football World Cup final.
"Let them go back to Asia or the Middle East where I understand some come from," he said at the opening of the three-day summit.
More than 30 heads of state from the AU's 53 members gathered amid unprecedented security in the Ugandan capital, with a debate on boosting the organisation's troops levels in Somalia and crushing the Islamist insurgents in the war-torn nation top of the agenda.
The AU summit observed two minutes of silence for the victims of the attacks two weeks ago.
"The African Union stands with you, my brother President Museveni, and with the people of Uganda," Bingu wa Mutharika, Malawi's president and current chairman of the AU, said in his opening remarks.
Museveni also said many of the organizers of the attacks in Kampala have been arrested.
"Their interrogations have yielded very good information," he added.
Ugandan authorities have not been precise regarding the number of people detained for their suspected involvement in the blasts. Last week the inspector general of the Uganda police force, Kale Kayihura, put the figure at "more than 20" but several of those individuals have since been released.
The two bombings were meant to bully Uganda into pulling out of the AU mission in Somalia (AMISOM), the last thing standing between the Shebab and total power.
Uganda reacted by saying it could send 2,000 more troops and urged more decisive international support, while the embattled Somali government argued the attacks were evidence Somalia required the world's attention.
AU chief Jean Ping said Friday Guinea was ready to send troops to Somalia.
"We are going to quickly top the 8,000 mark... I think the current trend could take us over 10,000."
Angola, Mozambique and South Africa may also pledge troops, whose current deployment consists of just over 6,000 Ugandans and Burundians, according to diplomats.
Ping also reiterated that the African Union was seeking a tougher mandate for AMISOM under the United Nations Charter's chapter seven, allowing it to take more aggressive action.
"If this request is answered positively, our troops will attack," he said.
The Shebab leadership has proclaimed its allegiance to Osama bin Laden and the group's first bomb attacks outside Somalia renewed fears that the Horn of Africa country could become a new safe haven for Al Qaeda.
Troops from the United States and the United Nations have previously not been able to crush the insurgency in Somalia, which has been without an effective government for two decades.
Eritrea, which is under international sanctions and has been accused of supporting the Shebab, argues that the Islamist insurgency needs to be engaged at the negotiating table than on the battlefield.
The Shebab -- as well as Mogadishu residents and rights groups -- have criticised AMISOM for causing civilian deaths by shelling targets in densely-populated areas.
Analysts have warned a beefed up AMISOM mandate could make things worse.
"We are quite worried about the consequences of such an operation, because if they are engaged in quite an indiscriminate manner, they run the risk of playing in the hands of the Shebab," said the International Crisis Group's Ernst Jan Hogendoorn.
The continent's leaders are also expected to discuss the future of Sudan, where the oil-rich south is due to hold a referendum on independence in January.
Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir stayed clear of the summit, AU sources told AFP. The International Criminal Court recently had added genocide charges to Bashir's indictment over the war in Darfur and Uganda, a member of the court, would have been compelled to arrest him.