FOUR Ugandan soldiers serving under the African Union force in war-torn Somalia were killed and five wounded by a remote-controlled bomb on their convoy in northern Mogadishu yesterday.
A child playing nearby was also killed and another wounded in the roadside blast, witnesses said. The children had been playing football.
An eye-witness was quoted as saying another man urinating in a bush near the bomb was blown to pieces.
Some 1,500 Ugandan peacekeepers are in Somalia as part of a planned 8,000-strong force that the AU is struggling to assemble. The latest deaths brought to five the number of Ugandan troops killed since they deployed in Somalia on March 6. The first soldier was killed on April 1 by artillery fire near Mogadishuâ€™s presidential palace.
The Wednesday attack came just as the Somali President, Abdoulaye Yussuf Ahmed, was concluding his three-day official visit to Uganda.
The explosion shattered a relative calm in Mogadishu that had endured since the end of two major battles between insurgents and the interim government, backed by its Ethiopian allies, in March and April. At least 1,300 people were killed.
Reacting to yesterdayâ€™s attack, Ugandan army chief Gen. Aronda Nyakairima said: â€œIt is a terrorist attack to try and intimidate our force. Those are kicks of a dying horse.â€
â€œThe attacks will not change our resolve to help pacify Somalia. Our soldiers were on a routine patrol near their base. They are engaged in confidence-building patrols,â€ said Nyakairima. He added that the Ugandan troops had been called several times by wananchi to detonate bombs or take away unexploded ordinances.
â€œWe shall stay put and wait for the other countries to deploy their troops alongside ours.â€
In Addis Ababa, the AU Commission chairperson, Alpha Oumar Konare, expressed â€œutter shock and disbeliefâ€ at the unprovoked attack. Condemning the attacks as â€œdespicableâ€, Konare expressed his condolences to the families of the bereaved and commiserated with the wounded.
According to a statement issued in Addis Ababa, Konare, praising the Ugandan troops who are â€œdeployed in Somalia under the most difficult circumstances,â€ appealed to them to remain â€œengaged in the noble action of helping the people of Somalia, especially those who continue to suffer from the senseless carnage, harassment, displacements and killings.â€
UPDFâ€™s commander of Land Forces, Lt. Gen. Edward Katumba Wamala, said: â€œIt is very sad.â€
The spokesperson for the AU troops, Capt. Paddy Ankunda, added: â€œFour of our soldiers were killed and five wounded by the blast which took place at Aruba Hotel area while on duty.â€
Army spokesperson Major Felix Kulayigye said: â€œThe wounded have been evacuated for treatment in Nairobi.â€ He added that the identities of the dead soldiers would be made public after their next of kin had been informed.
The interim Somali government accused Al-Qaeda of involvement in the attack. â€œThe attack against the Ugandan troops has all the hallmarks of Al-Qaeda. The Somali government is treating the matter as a terrorist attack,â€ said Hussein Mohamud Mohammed, the Somali presidential spokesperson.
Several people at the scene were immediately arrested, a Somali security officer said, adding that the person who detonated the bomb could not have fled very far.
â€œThis is a homemade device with a wire attached from the bottom which was pulled by somebody in order to trigger the explosion,â€ he said.
A witness, who escaped injury despite being thrown into the air by the blast, said the bomb was hidden in a pile of garbage.
â€œI was walking when suddenly I heard a loud bang and found myself in the air. I fell a few metres away. I thought I was dead. I touched my whole body to see if I had any wounds,â€ Muhyidin Ahmed, a 32-year-old father of six, told Reuters.
In Parliament yesterday, MPs led by Latiff Ssebagala, demanded a statement on the matter from Prime Minister Prof. Apolo Nsibambi.
Nsibambi said this was a matter for defence ministers Dr Crispus Kiyonga and Ruth Nankabirwa. But both were not present. At this point, Speaker Edward Ssekandi stopped the debate on the matter, describing it as premature.
Earlier, army representative Maj. Gen. Julius Facki Oketta informed the House that the UPDF needed time to present a comprehensive report on the matter.
The Somali government, the USA and Ethiopia, accuse Somali Islamists of having links with Al-Qaeda of Osama bin Laden. The Islamists were recently ousted from Mogadishu by Ethiopian troops but promised an Iraq-style insurgency.
Somalia, a nation of 10 million people, has been without an effective government since the 1991 ouster of dictator Mohammed Siad Barre sparked a bloody power struggle that has defied numerous attempts to restore stability.
4 UPDF killed in Mogadishu